Rise and sudden fall of the Young British Artists
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.