Pickled sheep are passe - BritArt is dead

Click to follow
YOU EITHER loved them for their bright ideas and irreverence or loathed them for their arrogance and fakery.

Whatever your perspective, the so-called "Young British Artists" (YBAs) defined a decade in Britain with a series of unforgettable stunts: halved cows, concrete domestic interiors and giant, bronze angels.

But the pendulum is now swinging away from such shock tactics. Dealers, collectors and art teachers have all detected the early symptoms of the imminent demise of the YBA phenomenon.

Art graduates are steering clear of the kind of "monumentalism" and the strong concepts that characterised the work of the big names of the last five years - Damien Hirst, Marcus Harvey and the public sculptor Anthony Gormley.

More telling still, Charles Saatchi, the collector who promoted the surge of international interest in contemporary British art, has begun to sell.

On 8 December the advertising millionaire will put up for auction 130 works - about 5 per cent of his vast collection - for auction in an unprecedented attempt to alter a sizeable chunk of his stock. Pieces by the Turner prize-winners, Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread, will go under the hammer, along with works by the provocative stars of last year's "Sensation" show at the Royal Academy, Jake & Dinos Chapman.

Ron Mueck, the artist who last year exhibited a naked replica of his father's corpse, will have work auctioned for the first time.

All proceeds from the sale will go towards establishing bursaries at four leading London art schools: the Slade, Goldsmith's, The Royal College and Chelsea, but it is difficult to predict quite how much money will be made.

Earlier this month at the same auction house, the first formaldehyde work by Hirst to come on to the market failed to reach its reserve price. Bidding stopped at pounds 85,000, around half of the figure some had expected it to reach.

While it is true that Saatchi is still acquiring Hirsts, the two auctions are an indicator of change.

Matthew Flowers, of the London gallery Flowers East, sees an increased interest in new artists working in paint. "There is nothing new about Saatchi selling works. What has changed is the method he is using - before, it would have been discreetly through dealers in New York. Now he has either got fed up with the work or he has seen an opportunity to cash in and fund new art."

Janis Jefferson, deputy head of visual arts at Goldsmith's College - the academic fulcrum of the YBA movement - said she had also witnessed a move towards decorative and ornamental skills and away from attention- grabbing sculpture.

"There is a definite change of mood, encompassing furniture and fashion." She points, for evidence, to the ICA's new exhibition, Die Young Stay Pretty, which features, among others, the work of Michael Raedecker, a fashion designer-turned-artist.

The sculptor Anthony Gormley, an ex-Goldsmith's student who gained notoriety with his Angel of the North statue, is less happy with the touted shift. He says he worries when people talk about skills in opposition to the experimental work of the YBAs.

Over at the Slade School of Art, Professor Bernard Cohen has other concerns. He decries the dominant influence of wealthy investors and collectors.

"It should come down to individuals but ideas about what is in vogue are being defined by venture capitalism. I have had students selling out their work at their first show or dealers buying up 20 to 30 artists in the hope that one of them will break through," he said.

However, if there is a move away from the headline-friendly works of the YBA era, the judges who picked out the four finalists for this year's pounds 20,000 Turner Prize do not seem to have heard about it.

The shortlist recognises the scatological work of Chris Ofili, Cathy de Monchaux's fetishistic sculptures and Sam Taylor-Wood's representation of Christ as a bare-breasted woman.

The fourth chosen artist, Tacita Dean, fulfils fewer of the YBA criteria. She films the sea and sometimes even draws.

The Turner exhibition opens at the Tate Gallery on 28 October; the winner will be announced by agnes b, the clothes designer, on 1 December.

Culture, Page 14