The British Invasion: A Broad Range of "Gentler" Contemporary British Art Is Finding an Audience on U.S. Shores. (Britart)
Meyers, Laura, Art Business News
A small band of British artists, notably David Hockney and Lucien Freud, have always enjoyed international reputations. Then came the attention-getting shock art of the U.K's "yBa" generation during the 1990s, which has yielded a surprising dividend: collectors on both sides of the Atlantic are looking at a much broader range of contemporary British art--in both originals and limited editions.
London was the darling of the international art cognoscenti in the 1990s when the New York market declined and a loosely-aligned group of artists, including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, the Chapman Brothers, Rachel Whiteread and Tracey Emin, known collectively as yBa--Young British Artists--stole the crown of media attention away from the Big Apple.
They and their patrons reinvented the art of promotion and hype in part by attacking good taste and the stuffy elitism of the art world. First exhibiting together in the late 1980s in the "Freeze" show and much more infamously in "Sensation," with its sometimes vulgar imagery and unusual mediums like elephant dung and maggots, the yBa artists soon became famous for being famous.
The annual Turner Prize for contemporary art was remade in their image into a national television event. Pop queen Madonna presided over the 2001 awards ceremony where an artist whose work involved turning on and off a light switch won the coveted prize. In other headline-grabbing moments, Hirst exhibited pickled sheep, and Lucas made a wax cast of her middle finger "flipping the bird." London advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi bought Emin's unmade bed for 150,000 [pounds sterling] ($246,000), as well as hundreds of other yBa pieces. In the U.S., collector Kent Logan loaded up on the stuff, as did Mexico's billionaire art lover Eugenio Lopez and Belfast collector Dr. Ian Rowan.
But turn the clock forward to 2003. A London Guardian newspaper headline heralds "the Gentle Art of Painting." Another publication noted, "YBA is officially history."
"British art has matured. It's no longer so angry," observed Gerard Goodrow, director of Post-War Contemporary Art at Christie's London. "The '90s were a real British time in the art world--probably for the first time ever. There had never before been a scene like there was with the yBa's. The `Cool Britannia' thing extended beyond art to fashion, music and film. Now, it's more about the art than the provocation. The hype is gone."
Better still, he said, "There is a great deal of interest [in contemporary British art] in America now. A young scene can help enliven an older scene, and in the past couple of years the interest has proven to be really international."
Contemporary Britart Heats Up
A spate of highly-anticipated museum exhibitions and gallery shows are focusing attention to other currents in contemporary Britart, as it's called. At the same time, a number of London-based art businesses--galleries and publishers--are dramatically increasing their U.S. marketing efforts by exhibiting at fairs, joining associations and opening U.S. outlets.
A major retrospective of celebrated "School of London" figurative painter Lucien Freud opened in February at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. London's Flowers Gallery celebrated the 5th anniversary of its Los Angeles gallery, Flowers West, in February with a comprehensive show of its British artists, including figurative painters John Kirby and Tai-Shan Schierenberg, abstractionist Carol Robertson and 3-D artist Patrick Hughes. In New York, Gagosian Gallery recently showcased Michael Craig-Martin, a key figure in the first (1960s) generation of British conceptual artists whose own career has surged in the rising tide of his yBa students, whom he taught at Londons Goldsmith College. And in June, Tate Britain mounts an encyclopedic retrospective of Op Artist Bridget Riley, a veteran Britain abstractionist who first came to renown in the 1960s. …