Billy Apple® was born Barrie Bates in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1935. He left New Zealand in 1959 to study graphic design at the Royal College of Art in London. After graduating in 1962, he changed his name to Billy Apple. In 1964, he moved to New York, where he produced pop-related paintings and objects followed by a body of neon sculptures, showing at various venues, including the Bianchini Gallery, the Howard Wise Gallery and the Pepsi-Cola Gallery.
By 1969, Apple had shifted to a more conceptual and process-oriented practice. To create a venue for his work, he established APPLE, a not-for-profit space at 161 West 23rd Street, which he operated between October 1969 and May 1973. He also exhibitedat various spaces in New York’s alternative art scene, including 3 Mercer Street, Holly Solomon, Martha Jackson West and the Clocktower, and for one year, from 1975 to 1976, was director of 112 Greene Street Gallery.
A major survey of Apple’s work, which brought together his British and American works from 1960 to 1974, was staged at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1974. The artist remained in New York until 1990, continuing to exhibit his work at various venues, including Leo Castelli Gallery (in 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1984). He also made two extended tours to New Zealand in 1975 and 1979–80, producing site-specific installations in dealer and public galleries throughout the country. Since the early 1980s, Apple has complemented his installation practice with text-based works that draw attention to the art system and highlight the artist’s social networks. A survey of these, As Good as Gold: Billy Apple Art Transactions 1981–1991, was organised and toured by Wellington City Art Gallery in 1991.
Billy Apple® became a registered trademark in 2008. The artist has worked on a range of projects to create branded products in the eight classes in which his trademark is registered, including a new breed of apple, called the ‘Billy Apple’, as well as ‘Billy Apple Cider’, ‘Billy Tea’ and ‘Apple’s Blend’, a mix of coffee beans. More recently, he has been involved in several art-science collaborations that have seen his cells immortalised, his genome sequenced and his DNA extracted and analysed for microbiome research.
Based in Auckland, New Zealand, since the 1990s, the artist has produced works that have been featured in major international and national exhibitions. These include: Toi Toi Toi: Three Generations of New Zealand Artists (Kassel & Auckland, 1999), Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s (New York, 1999), Kronos + Kairos: Über die Zeit in der Zeitgenössischen Kunst (Kassel, 1999), Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture (Frankfurt & Liverpool, 2002–03), American Supermarket (Pittsburgh, 2002), Art & the ’60s from Tate Britain (Auckland, 2006), Gold (Vienna, 2012) and International Pop (Minnesota & Philadelphia, 2016). More recent solo surveys include Billy Apple®: A History of the Brand and Revealed/Concealed, both at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam in 2009, as well as Billy Apple®: The Artist Has to Live Like Everybody Else at Auckland Art Gallery in 2015. His works are in many public and private collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York State; the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Tate Britain, London; and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.
Billy Apple passed away in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2021.