'Exit Through the Gift Shop': Banksy Film Punks the Art World
Exit Through the Gift Shop Review: Is the Banksy film a Joke?
Exit Through the Gift Shop ("a Banksy film") is now on limited release in North America, and I had a chance to check it out on opening night here in Vancouver. Exit Through the Gift Shop follows Thierry Guetta, a frenchman living in Los Angeles who becomes obsessed with the world of street art.
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Thierry Guetta dips his toe in the water by following his cousin, Space Invader, as Invader throws up his trademark mosaic video-game characters across LA, and ends up sidelining his family and business to follow street-art luminaries as they ply their trade on buildings and pavement around the world.
Eventually Guetta finds himself face-to-hoodie with Banksy, the darling/enemy of the art world whose work appears across the globe, both in galleries and on the street. (The film most likely gets its title from Banksy's notorious invasion of the Tate Gallery, wherein he hung his own work alongside British national treasures; when leaving the Tate, one exits... through the gift shop)
Thierry Guetta Enters the Street Art World
Over several years, Thierry Guetta shot thousands of hours of footage for a documentary that he had never really considered making, until his stab at true filmmaking resulted in an unwatchable mess. Banksy took over the project and suggested that Guetta try making street art of his own.
MBW: Mr. Brainwash
Guetta agreed, and created the persona of Mr. Brainwash ("I will brainwash your face"). As Mister Brainwash, Guetta launched into the big time immediately, taking over the abandoned CBS Studios to mount an epic art show, creating hundreds of pieces to be sold at outrageous prices.
What is Exit Through the Gift Shop About?
What is the point of the documentary? That anyone can be a famous artist? That modern art is basically bullshit? That value is in the eye of the beholder? That modern art's lifeblood is re-appropriation of existing work?
Then again, if the art (or "art") makes the viewer happy, does any of the above matter?
Does Exit Through the Gift Shop bite the hand that feeds it? It certainly does, but how could it not, and still have a shred of credibility?
Was the whole thing a con to begin with? Some suggest that Thierry Guetta is, himself, a Banksy creation. The New York Times claims the film is a stunt, but covers its tracks carefully, as there's no real evidence of this.
Is Thierry Guetta's story so unlikely, though? A media-obsessed everyman comes into contact with a world wherein image is everything... it doesn't really sound so farfetched. Especially taking into account the LA media scene, where everyone wants to be in on it. whatever "it" may be.
Is Exit Through the Gift Shop a Hoax?
So, is Exit Through the Gift Shop a hoax? I don't think it is, and that's not necessarily a good thing. I think street art is a valid art form, to be sure, and I also think that the intersection of art and business is (and always has been) fraught with with bizarre gaps between skill and appreciation, but how could either survive if there were a hard-and-fast metric for what makes good art?
I suggest seeing the movie yourself if you want to laugh and nearly cry at the same time. Do not bring any Krink, Sharpies, or paint with you to the cinema, or you will most certainly find yourself marking up a wall on the way home