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This work was commissioned by Tate as part of the London section of the exhibition Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis held at Tate Modern in 2001. It was commissioned in recognition of the pivotal role played by City Racing Gallery in relation to the London art scene of the 1990s. The work records the exhibition history of the gallery, set up by the artists John Burgess, Matt Hale, Paul Noble, Peter Owen and Keith Coventry in 1988 and run on small grants from the London Arts Board. It was conceived as ‘a way of showing that art comes from people, from communities of artists’ (Matt Hale, conversation with Tate Modern Curator Emma Dexter, February 2002). Four of the founding artists wrote on plastic-coated white board of the type generally used for temporary presentations, enlarged to billboard dimensions. A line of exhibitions, numbered one to fifty-one with the dates and the names of the artists, runs along the centre of the board. Colour coded for clarity, related facts and events straggle across the space on either side of this line. Clusters of passport-type photos of artists are collaged next to the relevant shows and contained within dotted lines which join the other kinds of information. Hale has explained:
The Family Tree is hand written by four of the City Racers (Matt, Paul, Pete and John) employing purposefully different writing styles or signatures. This was to reflect the way the gallery was run by different people and to visually state that the piece was not by an anonymous author or historian. This hand-written look also gives the impression that more could be added...
The family tree lists all the exhibitions including those we put on at other venues. It links up people from pre-City Racing time to when they exhibited at the gallery. It shows how some of the artists were also friends before the gallery started, how some ran other projects/galleries at the same time as City Racing or how they exhibited more than once at City Racing.
To demonstrate and acknowledge the importance of other spaces run by artists and to show the existence of the community of artists we also put information about other artist run spaces and projects which we knew existed locally to City Racing.
(Artist’s Statement, February 2002.)
City Racing Family Tree provides a reference point for the early exhibition history of several British artists who became prominent during the early 1990s, including Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing and Georgina Starr. Other artists, such as Emma Kay, Martin Creed, Fiona Banner and Paul Noble, have had more recent success. The family tree demonstrates the crucial need for a public platform in the development of an artist’s career and shows the complex chain of relationships and events which may contribute to an artist’s practice and the achievement of critical acclaim. It represents a symptom of the trend in London, at the end of the 1980s, for artists to begin to make opportunities for themselves rather than wait for wider recognition. It also makes manifest the role of many less well known artists within the community from which the better known artists emerged, providing an alternative background to the official versions of art history.
David Musgrave, ‘The Last Show: City Racing’, Art Monthly, No.222, Dec.1998/Jan.1999, pp.26-7
Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Tate London 2001, pp.88 and 91
City Racing: The Life and Times of an Artist-run Gallery 1988-1998, London 2002