Billy Apple was born in Auckland, New Zealand, as Barrie Bates. He studied at the Royal College of Art in London (1959-1962) and changed his name to Billy Apple in 1962.

In 1964 Apple moved to New York, where his work work was included in the seminal 1964 exhibition The American Supermarket, a show held in Paul Bianchini's gallery. The show was presented as a typical small supermarket environment, except that everything in it was created by six prominent pop artists of the time, including Billy Apple, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, Jasper Johns, Mary Inman, James Rosenquist and Robert Watts.

In 1974 Apple's first major survey exhibition was held at the Serpentine Gallery in London: From Barrie Bates to Billy Apple. In 1975 Apple returned to New Zealand where he embarked on a national exhibition tour with support from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. Apple was then invited back by the Arts Council for a tour over the summer of 1979-1980. The exhibition he toured was called The Given as an Art Political Statement. During each tour he exhibited in various art spaces and institutions throughout the country.

Since 1990 he has lived in Auckland, New Zealand and his works have been included in major exhibitions including: Toi Toi Toi: Three Generations of New Zealand Artists (Kassel & Auckland, 1999); Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin (New York, 1999); Kronos + Kairos: die Zeit in der Zeitgenössischen Kunst, (Kassel, 1999); Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture (Frankfurt & Liverpool, 2002-3); American Supermarket (Pittsburgh, 2002), and Art of the '60s from Tate Britain (Auckland, 2006).

In 2009 a second major survey exhibition of Apple's work was staged in two parts at Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam (Billy Apple®: A History of the Brand and Revealed/Concealed). In New Zealand his work has been surveyed in exhibitions such as Billy Apple: New York 1969-1973 (Wellington 2009).

Apple is represented in the collections of the Tate Britain, London; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; and the Corning Museum of Glass, New York; as well as all major Australian and New Zealand public collections

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