The Daily Telegraph
‘Young British Artists have wasted it for the next generation’
Turner Prize-winner says art world’s wunderkinds created expectations of easy fame and fortune
IN THEIR Nineties heyday, they transformed the British art scene, scandalising the baffled establishment and spinning their much-hyped ideas into a multi-million-pound industry.
But the legacy of the Young British Artists, or so-called YBAs, has been tainted by their effect on a new generation, as one of their stars says they made it seem too easy to become rich and famous.
Rachel Whiteread, the first woman to win the Turner Prize, said young artists now wanted only to be famous, expecting a well-remunerated career in a world of “immediate” art.
Whiteread, whose work Place (Village) has just gone on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, east London, said the “showoffs” of the YBAs “made it look too easy”. “Artists now live a very different life to the ones we lived,” she told The Observer. “We had no expectations, we played hard and worked hard.
“Now they expect a career, they expect fame. I stopped teaching because of that. It seemed students were only interested in being famous.”
She added: “We made it look too easy. Art was slower then, and better because of it. It wasn’t immediate.
“You couldn’t ‘yes or no’ something on Instagram. You had to travel to see it, which makes for a more thoughtful response.”
When asked whether there are any great artists emerging today, she said: “I don’t know. I rarely go round the galleries these days, partly because I’m sick of it. I just like my own stuff!”
In 1993 Whiteread became the first woman to win the Turner Prize, and sparked national controversy, with House, an interior cast of an end-ofterrace property in the East End of London that was demolished by Tower Hamlets council.
Along with the likes of Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Sam Taylor-Wood, Gillian Wearing, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Sarah Lucas, Angus Fairhurst and Michael Landy, she was one of the YBAs to define her generation, exhibiting at the Royal Academy’s notorious Sensation exhibition in 1997.
Asked about her 1990s peers, she said: “Art was never seen as a career when I was studying. Damien [Hirst] had a lot to do with changing the way people thought about it, with his ability to spin anything.
“People like Grayson Perry, who I shared a studio with back when he was still struggling, great show-offs who want to be in the media all the time …
“It’s not for me. Damien is a bit quieter now, but you see the residue of him.
“Tracey [Emin] too, these are people who have done a lot to be out in the world spinning a tale, making art an attractive proposition.
“People do what they need to do. I always think of Tracey as the girl in the playground shouting ‘Me me me!’
“I’m very fond of her, but she plays on that and it seems to work. People love her for it.”
Whiteread’s art work, Place (Village) (2006-2008), a series of around 150 vintage dollhouses presented as a hillside community, went on permanent display at the V&A Museum of Childhood this weekend.