UK's new art generation poised as YBAs mellow

As the 1980s generation young British artists show signs of becoming establishment figures, galleries in London are nurturing exciting successors.
Artist Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario.
Artist Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario.

When Tracey Emin gave a neon artwork to Britain's Conservative prime minister a few weeks ago, it became official. The YBAs - or Young British Artists, the generation of enfants terribles who came of age in the 1980s and have dominated London's art world ever since - have become about as revolutionary as a Buckingham Palace tea party.

This summer has seen a career retrospective of Emin at the Hayward Gallery, a Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibition across both White Cube galleries that is full of familiar "shocks" (mutant children, Nazis), and Damien Hirst designing an album cover for middle-aged funk-rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Clearly, it's time for a new generation to take over.

And that generation is poised and ready. They may not be exhibiting in major museums yet, but they are showing off their talent in quirky spaces off the beaten track: on car park roofs, in old office buildings and disused car showrooms. All the exciting art this autumn is happening in places that you won't find in tourist guidebooks.

Chief among these is Bold Tendencies, the annual group sculpture exhibition that will be taking up the top two floors of a multi-storey car park in Peckham, south-east London, until the end of September. There are no signposts to help visitors find their way to the show; those in the know must turn down an alley in an area stuffed with African food shops and clamber up stone stairs until they get to the roof, which has a cafe and a spectacular view of the London skyline.

The first Bold Tendencies happened five years ago, when the curator Hannah Barry (then in her early 20s) started putting on exhibitions in a house. Encouraged by the results, and wanting to show bigger works than she could fit in a room, she staged a sculpture showcase on the roof of a Victorian school. Now, in addition to the car park roof (which attracted 40,000 visitors last year), she has a gallery bearing her name and offices on Bond Street, in the more upmarket West End.

The gallery's young art stars include the 24-year-old sculptor James Capper, who is interested in the aesthetics of construction machines. He has a solo exhibition at the Hannah Barry Gallery this month, and was commissioned by Modern Art Oxford this summer to create Ripper, in which a giant machine rips up the surrounding countryside.

"There are always good young artists and they need a platform to do what they need to do," says Sven Mündner, co-director of the Hannah Barry Gallery, where the main aim is to help artists to develop. He points to Jay Jopling's YBA-affiliated White Cube gallery as an example of an organisation that "takes on young artists and builds them up", but adds: "There's only so much Jay Jopling can do. He can't take on 2,000 young artists. This new set of artists needs support."

These sentiments are echoed by another great champion of young, talented artists, James Lingwood, co-director of the art commissioning organisation Artangel, which has been behind such artworks as Rachel Whiteread's Turner Prize-winning House, Michael Landy's Break Down and Francis Alÿs's The Nightwatch, in which a fox prowling a gallery was filmed on CCTV.

"We're trying to help exceptional artists make something exceptional," Lingwood says. "We put all of our energies into projects which are genuinely one-offs, which stretch everyone involved and challenge the status quo."

Artangel's current commission is Locked Room Scenario by the 35-year-old sculptor Ryan Gander. Viewers must book tickets online, and are ushered into an empty office building with partly covered windows and darkened corridors, where they are tasked with trying to work out what is happening. Gander has said that it's inspired by the stories of Sherlock Holmes.

"We felt that Ryan had the capacity to play on a bigger stage," Lingwood explains. "We really wanted something that was open-ended, insidious, sophisticated, that really pushed Ryan to take his interest in layerings of experience and fictions and metafictions to another level. I think he's responded to that brilliantly."

These are not the only two organisations championing the new generation of London artists, although they are doing it in a particularly inspiring way. Elsewhere, there is Auto Italia, the artist-run exhibition space operating out of an old car showroom on the Old Kent Road in north-east London; Hotel, which started in an upstairs room in a residential house but has grown into a gallery in Whitechapel since 2009, and Coldharbour London, a gallery and studio space in an old warehouse that opened in Brixton, south London, this June.

The original YBAs don't look as though they're retiring any time soon, but a new generation of genuinely young British artists have passionate and dedicated gallerists watching their backs - and they are thriving.

Published: September 8, 2011 04:00 AM


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