A Fresh Look at the YBAs at ‘Rack ‘Em Up’

When I think of Picasso, cubism is the first thing that comes to mind. I hear the jazzy rhythms of ‘Three Musicians’ (1921) or flinch with intrigue remembering the provocative poses of ‘The Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907). But never do my ears hear Picasso and my brain think of say, ‘The Old Fisherman’ (1895) even though I know very well that the Spanish legend was a master of classical portraiture long before his figures turned angular. This is the case with many artists. One begins to associate them with their iconic work, often neglecting everything, no matter how pivotal, that came before. And this is why it can be so thrilling to stumble across an early Picasso, because it shares with us a piece of the artist we may have forgotten was there.

It is exactly in this way that Shapero Modern’s ‘Rack ‘Em Up’ brought a buzzing sense of excitement to my Tuesday evening. As a YBA (Young British Artists) themed show, I strolled into the Mayfair space expecting Damien Hirst‘s spots, Tracey Emin‘s neons and Warhol-esque Gavin Turk’s. Instead, upon entering the exhibition, thoughtfully curated by Mark Inglefield, my eyes widened at the sight of these artists’ much earlier work, as well as that of their peers. Packing the small space were pieces I had read about but never seen, pieces that were clearly a first step in what was to come later in the artists’ careers.

I was so energised by the art around me, I temporarily forgot about the white wine spritzer in my hand!

The whole exhibition feels fresh and relevant, even though none of the works are remotely new. And all the editions, regardless of their heaviness or shock factor, are absolutely approachable — a true curatorial feat!

But perhaps the most fun bit of this show, is the context the works on view give. Seeing Damien’s early ‘Last Supper‘ series feels like pinpointing the start of his obsessions with both the pharmaceutical and branding.

'Liver, Bacon, Onions - The Last Supper,' Damien Hirst, 1995
‘Liver, Bacon, Onions – The Last Supper,’ Damien Hirst, 1995

Similarly, a drawing of Tracey’s, so wonderfully vulgar it practically smells of sex, seems nothing if not the paper sister to ‘My Bed’ (1998).

Tracey Emin drawing at 'Rack Em Up'
Tracey Emin drawing at ‘Rack Em Up’

One of my favourite editions on show is a series of four black and white photographs by Angus Fairhurst entitled ‘When I woke up in the morning the feeling was still there‘ (1997).

'When I woke up in the morning the feeling was still there,' Angus Fairhurst, 1997
‘When I woke up in the morning the feeling was still there,’ Angus Fairhurst, 1997

This piece feels especially poignant considering Fairhurst’s tragic end —  the artist hung himself in 2008.

Another standout and real eye-popper, which is a true reminder of how YBA’s love to shock, is Jake and Dinos Chapman‘s ‘Bring me the Head of…‘ (1995).

'Bring Me The Head Of...,' Jake and Dinos Chapman, 1995
‘Bring Me The Head Of…,’ Jake and Dinos Chapman, 1995

Like it or not, you have to have some level respect the YBAs — They feared nothing! And their work definitely stands up today too — this piece is surely no less shocking now than it was in the 90’s.

The work I was most excited about seeing was an edition of Gavin Turk’s infamous RA final project, ‘Cave.’ Replicating London’s iconic blue plaques that denote someone of historical importance having lived in a particular place, this artwork may have won Gavin a big fat F for “fail,” but it also won him a permanent place in my heart.

image5 (2)
An edition of Gavin Turk’s infamous ‘Cave’

A true who’s who of the Young British Artists, ‘Rack Em Up’ also includes works by Mat Collinshaw, Keith Coventry, Jeremy Deller, Gary Hume, Johnnie Shand Kydd, Michael Landy, Sarah Lucas, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Chris Ofili, Richard Patterson, Sam Taylor Johnson and Gillian Wearing.

Maureen Paley once said, “The thing that came out of the YBA generation was boldness, a belief that you can do anything.” And I must say that leaving ‘Rack ‘Em Up,’ that’s exactly how I felt, like art had no limits. I can only imagine that’s what it must have felt like making one’s way out of ‘Freeze,’ the YBA’s first show, organised by Damien back in 1988. What a treat for me to be able to experience something similar 27 years later.

– India Irving

Rack ‘Em Up‘ is on view at Shapero Modern until through 27 March, 2015; 32 St. George Street, London W1S 2EA; Admission: FREE

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