Who are the YBAs?

15/05/2020     News Stories & Press Release


What is a YBA? 

Damien Hirst sold at Roseberys

Damien Hirst, British b.1965- Pyronin Y, 2005; etching in colours on 350g Hahnemühle paper sold at Roseberys Prints & Multiples auction for £9,750.


YBAs or Young British Artists is a label that was applied to a group of British artists who began to exhibit together at the end of the 80s and rose to international fame in the 90s. They are known for their use of uncommon materials, innovative entrepreneurial spirit, and willingness to shock!  Due to these combined characteristics and by participating in two of the most legendary exhibits of the late-20th century, the YBA phenomenon quickly became part of a global conversation. The movement changed the international art world as we know it today by directly contributing to the climate of acceptance of modern and contemporary art in the U.K. At the time, the work was new, fresh, and exciting and immediately accessible to the public, yet also with high art resonances and references.


Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin CBE RA, British b.1963- Its What I'd Like to Be, 1998; lithograph sold at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary Prints & Multiples auction for £3,125


Although the artists are categorised together, they are a loose and disparate group, with only a few common links. The principal link being their social attitudes and the increased pride in popular British culture dubbed “Cool Britannia” and the complete openness towards the materials and processes with which art can be made, and the form that it can take.  Another prominent feature that defines the artists behind the movement is their ‘can do’ entrepreneurial approach to showing and marketing their work.


Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk, British b.1967- It's in the Bag; six colour lithograph sold at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary Art auction for £375


How did the YBAs come into being?


In the 80’s unlike New York and West Berlin, London was not known as an art hub. Despite the growth of its finance industry, the British capital had far fewer contemporary galleries and little in the way of a postmodern art scene compared to its more culturally edgy American and German counterparts. Artists in these countries were involved in cutting edge postmodern movements such as the Pictures Generation, Street art, and Neue Wilden, with nothing similar in London happening until the YBA’s arrived on the scene. The gap in the market is said to have created and provoked new thinking and understanding for the emergence of the YBAs at the time.


Mark Wallingberger sold at Roseberys

Mark Wallinger, British b.1959- ''Ghost'' 2001; offset lithograph, signed in pencil sold at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary Prints, Photography & Editions auction for £1,500


The exhibition titled Freeze organised in 1988 by ring leader Damien Hirst, is said to be the launching point for the movement - although the name Young British Artists was not coined until 1992.  Hirst curated and promoted the “pop up” exhibition in an empty warehouse, while he was still a student at Goldsmiths College of Art. Freeze included the work of fellow Goldsmiths students, many of whom also became leading artists associated with the YBAs, such as Sarah LucasAngus Fairhurst and Michael Landy. Their work within the show was bound by their collective variety of approach, intention, and result. During the exhibition, the artist’s work was snapped up by dealers and gallerists, as well as both established and new collectors. Amongst the buyers was Charles Saatchi, an advertising titan and art collector. Overall, the show turned out to be a major success for all the young creatives involved. After their bold arrival onto the London art scene, the YBA magic became infectious and started to spread quickly.


Mat Collishaw

Mat Collishaw, British b.1966- Angel, 2009; lenticular print in colours sold at Roseberys Prints & Multiples auction for £1,690


Goldsmiths College of Art played an important role in the development of the movement as the courses at the college abandoned the traditional segregation of artistic training into painting, drawing, photography, and sculpture classes in favour of mixed studios. Michael Craig-Martin was among its most influential teachers.  As a principal figure of British conceptual art, his personal approach to the play between rhetoric and object influenced many of his young students to pursue complex themes through diverse media and processes. The students were also as much influenced and nurtured by their mentor as they were by each other.

In 1992, the phrase “Young British Artists” was first used by was by Michael Corris in Artforum magazine. The acronym ‘YBA’ was coined later in 1996 in Art Monthly magazine. The label turned out to be a powerful brand recognised worldwide and a useful marketing tool for the artists associated with it.

Later in 1997 The Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which went on to tour New York and Berlin, launched the YBAs onto a global stage. The exhibition comprised of 110 works by 42 artists from famous art collector and advertising mogul Charles Saatchi’s art collection. While many of the most notorious works by the YBAs were already known, this was the first time such a wide audience was able to see them, while their association with famous dealers and collectors lent them a new sense of importance.

During the decade of the 90s the YBAs became notorious for their punky ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos, taking over the pubs and clubs of London’s Soho and East End to host parties and private views whilst mixing with friends from the worlds of fashion, music and film.

In the following years after their celebrated exhibitions, many of the YBA group’s members were nominated for prestigious prizes. Several members of the group - including Emin, Gary Hume, and Michael Landy - have been elected as Royal Academicians (members of the Royal Academy of Art in Piccadilly in London, the UK's pre-eminent institution for the arts). Hume, Emin, Lucas, and Ofili represented the United Kingdom at the Venice Biennale, while Whiteread, Hirst, and Ofili were awarded the prestigious Turner Prize.


Kate Knight

Kate Knight & Dan Baldwin,British, b.1985 & b.1972-Something Wicked This Way Comes;Biro and colouring pencil on paper with acrylic paint overlay sold at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction for £1,310


Who are the key players in the YBA movement?


From crushing found objects with a steam roller to preserving dead animals, to the development of the artistic installation - the YBAs are among some of the best known and controversial in modern art history. The most celebrated and notorious of the YBAs being Damien Hirst, who created the most emblematic work of the movement – The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind of Someone Living. Otherwise known as The Shark. Another strong work was My Bed by Tracey Emin, which was made using her own bed and its surrounding detritus, removed from her home and installed in a gallery space. Michael Landy also became a key player with his installation titled Market created in 1990. The installation constructed from typical London market stands draped in fake grass and plastic crates stacked in various arrangements, resembled an eerily abandoned market. Market captured the spirit of social reform and the rapidly changing commercial activity in London at the dawn of the 90s.

Jake and Dinos Chapman

Jake and Dinos Chapman, British b.1966 & 1962- Smile and the World Smiles with You (Small), 2017; three glitter overlays on Somerset Satin sold at Roseberys Prints & Multiples auction for £775


Other leading artists include, Cornelia Parker, Gavin Turk, Angus Fairhurst, Jenny Saville, Mat Collishaw, Christine Borland, Angela Bulloch, Sarah Lucas, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Marc Quinn, Sam Taylor-Wood, Fiona Rae and Gary Hume. Roseberys have sold many works by these various artists listed here within their Modern & Contemporary British Art and Prints & Multiples auction with great results.



Gary Hume

Gary Hume RA, British b. 1962- Monkey; ink on wove paper sold at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction for £525


Where are they today?

Marc Quinn

Marc Quinn, British, b.1964- Labyrinth TS (172) Monochrome, 2012; pigment print on wove sold at Rosberys Prints & Multiples auction for £2,565


The once-scandalous Young British Artists are still Britain’s artistic aristocracy and the British press continues to treat them in the same regards to that of an A-list celebrity.

The most financially successful YBAs are now some of the richest artists in the world and remain bold and extremely media-savvy. Many of the artists are now in their fifties and continue to make immensely popular art that consistently fetch top prices at auction. Hirst's work is particularly lucrative and has enabled him to amass a gigantic fortune - his personal net worth was estimated at between $400 million and $1 billion five years ago. The success of Hirst’s 2008 Sotheby’s sale Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, generated £111,576,800 (US$ 185,407,582). Tracey Emin has also achieved high prices in the last decade. Her four-poster bed sculpture To Meet My Past (2002), the appliqué blankets Super Drunk Bitch (2005), and Terminal One (2000) sold for $778,976, $603,161, and $323,627, respectively. Sarah Lucas achieved $470,141 for Fighting Fire with Fire (1997), a six-part photographic piece sold at Christie’s London. The financial astuteness and entrepreneurial skills are viewed by many commentators, in the UK at least, as the YBA's main legacy.

Today with help from the movement the gallery scene in London remains one of the most influential in the world, with spaces such as White Cube, Whitechapel Gallery and The Tate continuing to host  exhibitions for the founding members of the YBA movement.


Young artists mention the YBAs today as their influences including Takashi Murakami, known as the 'Japanese Warhol' and the political activist and superstar of Chinese art, Ai Weiwei, citing Damien Hirst as their inspiration.

If you would like to be notified for upcoming sales that include YBAs you can register an account with Roseberys and set-up the specific key words.








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