Exit Through the Gift Shop
Directed by: Banksy
Written by: N/A
Starring: Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey, and Rhys Ifans
The battle between art and commerce is as old as art and commerce. Can you truly put a price on something that you create? Is it possible to attach concrete meaning to something that appears so illusive and immune to analysis? These are big questions, ones that Exit Through the Gift Shop tackles almost effortlessly and on accident.
Initially, this is a film about the evolution of the underground street art movement and its many players. Thierry Guetta is an amateur videographer whose interest is peaked by the illegal art that these renegades create after the sun sets. He follows them around, collecting thousands of hours of footage without any real purpose behind his concept other than it interests and inspires him. In a way he becomes a public relations rep and assistant to these artists’ visions, that is until he meets Banksy.
Banksy is the pseudonym of one of the world’s most infamous and provocative graffiti artists. He is largely credited with taking the movement to the next level by establishing himself as a brand name, hosting a legitimate art show that was attended by the likes of Jude Law and Brangelina. Guetta is obsessed with locating this enigma of a man. Once the two finally meet up, Banksy turns the tables. He lets Guetta film him from certain angles, shedding unprecedented light on his creative process and operating procedure. We never see his face, and his voice is also masked, but that we get this close to someone so private is astonishing. However, after seeing what a sporadic disaster Guetta makes of the street art documentary, Banksy decides to make his own.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary if Charlie Kaufman made one. It slowly evolves from a basic concept to an elaborate artistic statement that essentially becomes about itself. When Banksy films Guetta, it’s at the point that Guetta decides to become his own artist. It is here the movie finds its purpose by turning on one of its stars.
Guetta is a fraud. He uses his elaborate resources and false sense of purpose to create the largest art show in L.A. history under the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash. He evolves street art by taking the street out of it, creating a warehouse of over 4,000 pieces and selling them upwards of 20,000 dollars. Where once he watched as Banksy inflated a blow up doll dressed as a Guantanamo inmate and put it up in Disney Land, now he places random pieces of celebrity’s heads together, or places an eye-patch over the Mona Lisa.
This film brilliantly shows the transformation of a penniless art form into something with the potential to make millions. Innovators of the art like Banksy and Shepard Fairey (creator of the now-famous Obama “Hope” posters) are quoted in blurbs to promote the show, shallowly titled “Life is Beautiful.” Scenesters latch onto Mr. Brainwash’s work through a calculating advertising and promotional campaign. The interviews with these people, proclaiming him as “The Next Big Thing,” simply because it said that in the newspaper, are hilariously revealing.
Guetta thinks he has made it big because he’s made a lot of money, essentially evolving into the Michael Bay of the graffiti world. He creates work under that name, but none of the other artists give it any credibility. What initially began as a revealing look at an emerging art form ends up becoming a critique of the entire artistic process. You will enter expecting to see people running from cops and hastily pasting their thought-out creations to city walls. You’ll exit, well… through the gift shop, and you better be buying something if you don’t want to be, like, totally lame.