The Quietus | Properties | craft/work


© the artists and gallery Neu, Berlin – photography by Stefan Korte

Press releases for art exhibitions, the flyer at the gallery entrance: who reads this stuff? The full title of the exhibition here gives a sharp foretaste of BANK’s glowing attitude towards such communiqués:

Status quo
We wanted to paint the walls pink and blue and have a golf buggy in the gallery, but all we got was this white cube graveyard.

This sip is a warning that we’re in for a litany of inside jokes with a strong astringent bent.

BANK, formed in 1991, was a London-based collective (the core members were Milly Thompson, Simon Bedwell and John Russell) who started a project in 1998 called the Fax-Bak Service. They proofread and marked over 300 press releases and then faxed them back to the galleries corrected. BANK were gritty and, like 10cc, had an urge to make their mark: unsurprisingly, many galleries were clearly unimpressed and unamused. A selection of fax-bak replies here lines the walls in a grid that may or may not screw Hanne Darboven’s conceptual sequences. BANK distrusts presumption, so how’s that for a grandiose comparison?

BANK had a sommelier’s nose for cant, BS, pomposity. We could listen to them by quoting Hélène Cixous. She once wrote, “Here’s something like highlighted writing,” but we can be fairly certain she wasn’t referring to homework given to aspiring schoolchildren. And that’s exactly what the BANK did by giving each press release a rating of up to ten points. The original authors of these (often insignificant) gallery letters were anonymous. Most were written in congealed argot, crammed with incomprehensible jargon, and often heavily copied and over-hyped. The names of 20th-century French philosophers play a major role. BANK thought they might be helpful/rude to the galleries, so set themselves up as a ‘free advice centre’. They did so with an intentionally “holier-than-thou tone” and a knowing “hypocritical undertone,” caveats they acknowledge in the press release The Show. That’s not a bad example. I would give 7/10.

© the artists and gallery Neu, Berlin – photography by Stefan Korte

The scrawled comments BANK made are often childish and funny, if occasionally offensive – sometimes even hurtful, especially if you were on the receiving end and/or had a sense of humor. Here are some examples:


This is an appendix to a publication from the Royal College of Art. Note the underlining and capital letters for emphasis. Or how about:

“You make the show sound REALLY BORING 0.25/10″[>BANKscheineneswirklichdraufzuhabentime out Magazine like:

“Too much like one time out Review, all overcautious. But keep trying!”

And then there is:

“’Persuasive’ is a time out Mannerism, don’t use it.”

Scattered in the margins are platitudes long favored by bewildered teachers: “Need to try harder” or “Read more books.” Then words of horror spring out, scathing criticisms like “meaningless,” “chatter,” “spongy,” “boring,” and “squeamish.” It’s easy to imagine gallery faces turning red with anger when they encountered a fax containing these kinds of insults. Just a handful of passes: you get a 10/10, but that’s irony of the show’s title: Eliminate the Negative. The worst gets 0.002/10. Don’t go there.

Modern French philosophers keep popping up like:

“A heady mix of O-level baudrillard and sweet, flowery, breathless prose. I feel sick.”

As a pedant, I am compelled to point out that this should be at ‘O’ level. Another scolding warns the author to “try not to be so enamored with sounding smart.” It’s best not to take this too personally. The insults are piling up:

“There really is no excuse for this casual, nondescript journalism”

“This is a press release, not a sales pitch for real estate agents”

“You keep telling us things are important: I get suspicious”

“I fully expect to be shitty bored”

“Wake me up before you’re done – I’m almost asleep.”

The majority of BANK’s London-based fax-baks avoid commenting on other artists, but are quite rude when Dame Rachel Whiteread calls their work “blank”. But here, too, pathos is at work. The sheer number of artists featured in these press releases makes you wonder, “Who?” or “Where are they now?” What happened to that berserker you met down at the Pride of Spitalfields one night? And that guy who tells you so-and-so is the next big thing because he’s “crazy”? So many long forgotten, unseen artists. Many of the galleries have long since disappeared.

© the artists and gallery Neu, Berlin – photography by Stefan Korte

Then you ask the lyrics themselves: Did the artist write this gibberish? A notable exception to serious criticism is Sean Landers. His blurb is really amusing and well written. So do we see an attack on the system here or are the BANK hypocrites condoning the business as usual? Answer yes to both. Eventually, and perhaps intentionally, the markings become as annoying as a bullying teacher’s constant reprimands. The corrections of linguistic distortions, tautologies and clichés exhaust the reader as much as the mistakes themselves. The effect is no different than plowing through a collection of bad reviews, such as at Hatchet Jobs by Dale Peck (2004). In the end you are exhausted, beaten up.

What exactly do we have here? A work of art that includes writing About write art. Brad Haylock and Megan Patty recently co-edited a book entitled Art writing in crisis. In it, Dan Fox says, “many of the newborn curators were terrible writers” and continues: “It became common to joke about not understanding what the press release meant”. Fox could talk about BANK’s goals, the “art language drones reviewing shows in a bunch of death-bled language. (Why use a word when you could use three neologisms and a tautology instead?)” Fox favors those “writers who have done music, literature, or film.” Exactly, brother.

One shudders at the idea of ​​sending a text to the BANK for verification. Imagine a fact-checker from hell New Yorker crossed with a terrible English teacher – the one who threw a feather duster at your skull for misreading your semicolons. Ironically, this show is pretty useful for the freelance writer. BANK teaches hard lessons in how not to write. One might consider the Fax-Bak’s to be playful, but beware. BANK insists that “playfulness” is “banned” as a word. Perhaps they would prefer to use the word ludic. To kid! With all of that in mind, I’ve gone through this review a hundred times or more and hope, at the risk of insinuating myself, that there aren’t too many errors. Mark 6/10 for the show. Proleptic rating for this review 4/10. Always the optimist.

BANK: Status quo, we wanted to paint the walls pink and blue and have a golf buggy in the gallery, but all we got was this white cube graveyard at Galerie Neu, Berlin, until March 5th


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