Rise and sud­den fall of the Young Bri­tish Artists

The Herald - Arts - - BOOKS - El­iz­a­beth Fuller­ton will be at the Fruit­mar­ket Gallery in Ed­in­burgh on Mon­day night at 6.30pm to dis­cuss the Scot­tish di­men­sion of Bri­tart. Visit fruit­mar­ket.co.uk for de­tails.

at it all with fresh eyes. And she does, up to a point. For any­one seek­ing a straight­for­ward, brisk, and of­ten en­ter­tain­ing ac­count of the YBA move­ment you could do worse than start here. It’s well re­searched, com­pen­dious, will­ing to cover artists who weren’t in the YBA front line (and so the likes of Anya Gal­lac­cio and Jane and Louise Wil­son are given their place in the story); will­ing, too, to look be­yond London and the YBAs and what was hap­pen­ing else­where in the Bri­tish art scene in the 1990s. Which mostly means Glas­gow. That said, she could have in­te­grated that into the book more com­pellingly. She re­ports the Glas­gow scene but doesn’t use it as a chance to com­pare and con­trast.

And that’s symp­to­matic of why Ar­trage! is a lit­tle frus­trat­ing. Not for the things it does, which it does very well, but for the things it doesn’t. Fuller­ton re­tains her jour­nal­is­tic ob­jec­tiv­ity even when the sub­ject pos­i­tively de­mands her to dive in, get dirty, give her opin­ion.

In­stead she leaves that to oth­ers. As a result, the best lines are not hers. By the age of 26, she tells us, Damien Hirst had pro­duced most of the works that he is known for. It’s left to the art critic Adrian Searle to stick the knife in: “He’s one of those artists who’s lived life back­wards re­ally; you do your ma­ture work first and your ju­ve­nilia later.”

All that said, this re­mains an ex­cel­lent primer on the rise and fall, suc­cesses and fail­ures of a mo­ment in Bri­tish art. It catches the brio of the peo­ple in­volved, charts the con­nec­tions that they forged; the friend­ships, the fall-outs, the part­ner swap­ping (a bit more gos­sip wouldn’t have hurt) and cel­e­brates the art they cre­ated. Along the way she also re­minds us that the YBA gen­er­a­tion was mostly work­ing-class, the cre­ation of a grant sys­tem as much as their own post-Thatcherite pushi­ness.

But then that’s a thing of the past too in parts of Bri­tain, isn’t it? The idea that the state should pay for ed­u­ca­tion. It’s not just pol­i­tics that can feel post-Bri­tish these days.

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