BANK (Simon Bedwell born 1963, John Russell born 1963, Milly Thompson born 1964)

Fax-Back (London: The Whitechapel Art Gallery)

1998

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Not on display
Medium
Digital print, ink and adhesive tape on paper
Dimensions
Support: 295 x 210 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2014
Reference
T13917

Summary

Fax-Back (London: The Whitechapel Art Gallery) 1998 consists of two joined sheets of A4 paper with printed text and handwritten additions. The text is a press release for the exhibition Speed: Visions of an Accelerated Age: Flavin, Hamilton, Gursky, Hapaska, R.Graham held at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1998. The two sheets were cut up and joined together with Sellotape so that the original two-page press release could be transmitted by fax over one page. This is one of a number of Fax-Backs which resulted from the ‘BANK Fax-Back Service’ of 1998–9 for which the then three members of the BANK group of artists (Simon Bedwell, John Russell and Milly Thompson) edited and corrected art gallery exhibition press releases and faxed them back to the gallery complete with critical and occasionally encouraging comments, suggestions for improvement and a mark out of ten. The contributions of the three BANK artists can be discerned through their different handwriting and different pens. The earliest Fax-Backs, dating from the early summer of 1998, are embellished with a hand drawn ‘stamp’ that by the early autumn was replaced by a rubber stamp impression to the same design in an official-looking red ink. For other examples of the London Fax-Backs see Tate T13914T13916 and T13918T13925.

BANK’s description of their project reveals a typically critical and humorous stance:

Press releases are genuinely fascinating documents. They’re usually unsigned, which is perhaps why they’re so often absurdly pompous. But the really interesting thing is, who are they for? Rich collectors, who must be presumed to be stupid and talked to like children? Other gallerists, to show them that they read the backs of theory books too? Artists? Students? Just who is being addressed by these things? The endless nonsense they contained meant that we could be brutally honest about their conceits, assumptions and errors to the point of outright rudeness, under the none-too-convincing cover of offering free advice as to improvements. There was also a hopefully infuriating holier-than-thou tone to the whole project, and a hypocritical undercurrent.
(BANK 2000, p.95.)

BANK corrected press releases from all types of gallery, ranging from national institutions and publicly-run galleries to commercial galleries and artist-run spaces. The scope of the criticism contained within the Fax-Backs ranged from comments on typographic design and corporate identity, to syntax, grammar and language, misuse of philosophical tenets, historical inaccuracy, lack of humour (as much as the misplaced assumption of humour), pretension and boredom, recourse to journalism, and the use of dumbed-down language.

BANK received relatively few responses from the galleries they purported to be assisting. The London Fax-Backs were exhibited in 1999 in Press Release, BANK’s last exhibition at the Gallerie Poo Poo in Underwood Street in Shoreditch in London, which had been the group’s base since 1996. For Press Release BANK exhibited thirty Fax-Backs mounted in clip frames hanging on the wall and also reproduced in a book, a style of presentation that they described as an ‘orthodox conceptual art-circa-1969 style’ (BANK 2000, p.108). The following year they extended the range of Fax-Backs to New York galleries and these were exhibited in a second Press Release exhibition, this time at the Rupert Goldsworthy Gallery in New York (September– October 1999). The idea to correct gallery press releases in this way originally occurred during the six-week invigilation of BANK’s exhibition Stop short-changing us. Popular culture is for idiots. We believe in ART (Gallerie Poo Poo, June–August 1998).

BANK was formed in 1991 by Simon Bedwell, John Russell and Demo Demosthenous following the group exhibition BANK that they had organised in a disused bank building in London. The twenty group exhibitions and other manifestations that the group of artists organised between 1991 and 1999, both at Gallerie Poo Poo between 1996 and 1999 and in various spaces in London prior to that, were formulated as installed scenarios or tableaux. These served as a critique of dominant positions of current art practice then typified by the reception of the young British artist and demonstrated the critically aggressive, irreverent and satirical nature of their activity, which was aimed directly at the mainstream contemporary art scene.

The Press Release exhibition acted as an effective marker for the end of BANK’s collective activity (John Russell left the group in 2000 while Thompson and Bedwell continued to exhibit as BANK at Chapman Fine Arts, London in 2001, Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London in 2002 and The Suburban, Chicago in 2003 before dissolving the partnership the same year). The activity embodied in the making of the Fax-Backs exemplifies the particular oppositional stance that BANK took to the prevailing status quo of the art world through the 1990s, a stance the artist and critic David Burrows (a member of BANK between 1993 and 1995) identified as ‘the other history of Modernism, the history of avant-garde negation and provocation of bourgeois art … [a refusal] to make their artwork work for the institution of art’ (David Burrows, ‘Art & Language / BANK’, Art Monthly, no.222, December 1998–January 1999, p.31).

Further reading
BANK, BANK, London 2000, reproduced pp.94–8.

Andrew Wilson
August 2013

Display caption

BANK’s aggressive, irreverent and satirical activities targeted the mainstream contemporary art scene. These works are from the series ‘BANK Fax-Back Service’ in which the artists critiqued art gallery exhibition press releases by faxing them back to the gallery with scores out of ten: ‘the endless nonsense they contained meant that we could be brutally honest about their conceits, assumptions and errors to the point of outright rudeness, under the none-too convincing cover of offering free advice.’

Gallery label, November 2016

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