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the Complete Review
the complete review - art

High Art Lite

Julian Stallabrass

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To purchase High Art Lite

Title: High Art Lite
Author: Julian Stallabrass
Genre: Art
Written: 2000
Length: 344 pages
Availability: High Art Lite - US
High Art Lite - UK
High Art Lite - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : comprehensive overview of Young British Artists in the 1990s

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian C 1/2/2000 Adrian Searle
London Rev. of Books . 13/4/2000 Marina Warner
New Left Review . 9-10/2000 Bryan Appleyard
New Statesman B+ 31/1/2000 Will Self

  From the Reviews:
  • "Stallabrass seems alienated from the labour of his fellow workers. His problem, as a critic and an analyst, is that, like many Courtauld Institute-trained art historians, he's curiously disengaged when it comes to discussing the things artists actually make. He comes on like an auditor, balancing the books between the artist's stated intentions and the things they produce, which he tends to read as documents. There's a deadness about his expositions that makes me wonder whether he actually likes art." - Adrian Searle, The Guardian

  • "(T)he high-art-lite tendency may not have acquired a great, high cultural critic in the shape of Stallabrass. But with his fusty, stolid, Marxian analyses, his unfussy prose and his measured discursiveness, they've got the critic they deserve." - Will Self, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       New British art has been amazingly successful in the 1990s. Young British Artists (yBAs) are much discussed, with Damien Hirst and his preserved animals, Rachel Whiteread and her empty spaces, Chris Ofili and his elephant dung, and many others rising to international prominence. The notorious Sensation show, presented first at the Royal Academy in London and then the Brooklyn Museum in New York stirred controversy and added publicity. In addition, art dealer extraordinaire Charles Saatchi is a driving force behind the rise of the yBAs, buying and selling their stuff en masse, making (and breaking) prices and reputations.
       Julian Stallabrass' High Art Lite offers a useful and fairly comprehensive survey of the phenomenon of new British art in the 1990s, richly illustrated with examples of the art work. Fascinated by the phenomenon, Stallabrass examines it from all aspects, devoting chapters to the art itself, to the artists, the role of the media, Saatchi, Sensation, galleries and curators, the Turner prize, and more.
       As his title suggests, Stallabrass is less than awed by this art movement. He is critical, but not completely dismissive. Usefully, he is particularly interested in the success (popular and financial) of the yBAs, and examines in some detail what has played a role in achieving this success. His emphasis is decidedly on how the art is oriented towards attaining popular recognition, utilizing the media, playing into the hands of Saatchi -- or, in some instances, deliberately working against it.
       Stallabrass offers a very good overview of how the movement and its varying strands evolved. Indeed , the volume is more useful as art-history than criticism -- though Stallabrass also offers a cogent analysis of much of the art.
       His criticism is, however, limited by the breadth of his undertaking, leaving him little room to examine individual pieces or artists in great depth. Some artists (Damien Hirst, for example) and individual pieces (Marcus Harvey's Myra) are examined more closely -- though, again, Stallabrass offers more of a starting point for discussion than conclusions.
       In looking to the many external factors that have also shaped the yBAs (and some which have reciprocally been shaped by the new art, such as advertising) Stallabrass gives a fairly complete picture of this unusual British phenomenon. (He also suggests why this success came about specifically in Britain.) There is also a lament for the state of modern art criticism (another factor in why the yBAs have risen to such prominence).
       Quoting artists and critics extensively, and with pictures of many examples of the art being discussed, High Art Lite is a useful, balanced introductory account of British art in the 1990s. It is of interest in showing how and why a movement can arise in the art world -- and showing how the art world in general currently functions.

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High Art Lite: Reviews: Sensation and the Young British Artists: Julian Stallabrass:

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About the Author:

       Julian Stallabrass teaches at the Ruskin School (Oxford).

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