William Kherbek kicks off a new year with a run down of the Bank retrospective in London
On the hip-hop classic The Chronic by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg sings a line about Easy E which can hardly have gone down well: “It seems like you’re good for makin’ jokes about your jimmy; but here’s a jimmy joke about your mama that you might not like, ‘I heard she was a Frisco dyke’.” Yes – a bit of mindless aggression, misogyny, and homophobia all at once. You’d think we were talking about Abstract Expressionism, right? Whatever your taste in hip-hop, there’s an interesting logical implication in Snoop’s take-down. The way he phrases it suggests that there’s a jimmy joke about his mama that Easy E might actually have liked, perhaps admiring its structural complexity or the sophistication of the word play. I bring this up because, strange as it may sound, the lyric kept coming into my head at the Bank retrospective at M.O.T. International gallery.
The collective known as Bank came together in 1991 and consisted of Dino Demosthenous, John Russell, and Simon Bedwell. Members came and went over the years, including Milly Thompson, Andrew Williamson and David Burrows. Over the last 22 years, their name has come to represent a a particular form of scabrous critique of the self-involvement and mental laziness of Planet Art. Thus, a very special kind of jimmy joke that even the subject thereof could appreciate.
As with hip-hop, another art form in which the term “bank” has a special meaning, the collective has never shied away from exercises in the worst possible taste. And for this, the world must be thankful. The show at M.O.T. is a broad survey of work including many of the iconic publications and works that defined Bank as a kind of multi-headed art-world Feste the Clown, wise, sharp-eyed, and allergic to boundaries. If there’s an artistic equivalent of the dis record, Bank almost certainly made the iconic example in their merciless skewering of the press releases from prominent galleries. The various victimised press releases hang along the M.O.T.’s south wall. It’s painful and hilarious reading, though I have to admit, at times it did feel a little too close to jimmy jokes about someone’s mama.Maybe I’m too polite, but making fun of press releases for not using complete sentences strikes me as being a bit like critiquing McDonalds for using the slogan “I’m lovin’ it” and not defining what “it” is. Still, for anyone who’s had to suffer the anguish of reading a press release for content, the works have a thrilling catharsis.
In a show like this, layout is crucial. An exhibition is always a trade-off between access and restriction, and like a few other shows I’ve seen over the years M.O.T. errs overly on the side of caution. That’s a shame because you see Bank’s publications carefully preserved under glass and you think, I’d really like to read it, and that only reminds you that you’re in a gallery, the kind of place that produces press releases. (Editor’s note: a full archive of The Bank tabloid publication is available to read in the office). The overly reverential hang of the press releases themselves also seems to dilute the content of the works somewhat. They say it’s the fate of successful revolutionaries to be marginalised or scorned, apparently successful revolutionaries can also suffer from being very tastefully hung.