We continue our celebration of a-n’s 40th Anniversary with 10 more interviews in our 40 Years 40 Artists series. Conducted by writer Louisa Buck, these conversations focus on artists who came to prominence in the 1990s and who feature in a-n’s archive during that period.
The 1990s began with the UK in recession. Civil war in Northern Ireland still raged and the IRA intensified its bombing campaign in England. The EU formed, Cold War thawed and the Soviet Union dissolved. The AIDS epidemic continued to spread across the world, and concerns about global warming became widespread. In South Africa, Apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela was elected president, but there was the horror of genocide in Rwanda and wars in the Gulf, Chechnya, Bosnia and Kosovo.
It was a decade of political transformation in the UK, with Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 General Election bringing to an end 18 years of Conservative government. Devolved Welsh and Scottish Parliaments were created and by the end of the decade there was peace in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement.
Huge technological and scientific leaps occurred, with the first website launching on the World Wide Web and the Hubble Telescope orbiting earth. Eurotunnel opened and Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal.
In the arts, Rachel Whiteread became the first woman to win the Turner Prize (in 1993), but women were still underrepresented in the wider sector. As the cover of the March 1992 Artists Newsletter incredulously stated: ‘In 1991, 83% of solo shows went to male artists’.
National Lottery grants were launched but arts funding by local authorities continued to decline through the decade. However, London and other cities saw a proliferation of artist-led galleries, which filled commercial spaces left empty by the economic recession of the early 1990s. The 1997 exhibition ‘Sensation’ made household names of the group of artists who became known as YBAs (Young British Artists), and the Angel of North transcended public art to become a landmark.
a-n traced these developments, publishing special editions that focused on Europe, and on disability arts, and articles ranging from how the internet could be used by artists as resource and medium, to advice on environmentally sustainable practices. Profiles included those on the African and Asian Visual Artists’ Archive, and artist-led activity across the UK.
a-n published its 150th issue and became a full-colour magazine with sections dedicated to ‘Artists & Artwork’, ‘Issues & News’ and ‘Practical Pages’. We launched a new resources section, ran a live events programme, and also began to offer specialist insurance to artists – core member benefits that continue today. And in 1999 we launched the first a-n website, signaling the beginning of a new period in our ongoing support of artists, their practices and livelihoods.
40 Years 40 Artists: the 1990s features interviews with: Bobby Baker, Lubaina Himid, Yinka Shonibare, Dorothy Cross, Franko B, Grayson Perry, Rachel Whiteread, Jane and Louise Wilson, Richard Billingham and Gary Hume.