Sunday, April 18, 2010

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP: The World’s First Street Art Disaster Movie

It’s important to understand first that no one likes to be picked on. It’s not an assumption I am working on here; it’s the cold hard truth of the matter. As a result of the first statement above we can conclude that in fact everybody likes, or likes to think, that they are in on the joke. This is why Banksy has become so important to the art world and it’s fringe of collectors, skate-punks, skeptics and hardcore believers. Banksy not only attracts the avid art follower, but he attracts the person who could care less about art. He attracts the disenfranchised, the non-committal and the trying-to-be. And bringing us all into his circle without ever actually revealing his true self or speaking to any of his fans, in this he allows us all to both think we are in on the joke and makes us the punch line to his continuing prank on the world, specifically the art world.

“Exit Through The Gift Shop,” is a funny movie. It is exciting to see these street artists at work and to have an insider look at the art they create and put out into the world. The premise of the movie is simple enough, a Frenchman, Thierry Guetta, living in Los Angeles with his family becomes obsessed with his video camera filming everything in his daily life, wife, kids, job, car, parking lots, basically any and everything. On a trip home to France he begins filming his cousin who is the famous street artist Space Invader. After filming Space Invader’s exploits on the streets of Paris he becomes obsessed with not only Invader and his friends, but with the danger and life of making street art. He is not only passionate about documenting those who make the art, but with the visceral experience of posting said art it in obscure and sometimes dangerous locales. Upon returning to Los Angeles he begins filming street artists, one of them being Shepard Fairey. And he slowly becomes obsessed with the most secretive and elusive street artist of all, Banksy.

In Los Angeles Thierry is finally introduced to Banksy by Fairey, who is under the impression that all the tape Thierry is filming will someday become a documentary about the artists. Thierry for his part has explained that is his intention, though he has no idea how to make a film, the tapes are in boxes seldom labeled and if so done poorly. The elusive artist Banksy takes Thierry up on his offer to be his guide of Los Angeles’ prime wall space and they venture out into the night to tag the city.

Not to ruin this or write an entire summary, but at one point Banksy demands to see the documentary and Thierry, not wanting to disappoint his friend and hero, begins editing something together. When he believes it’s done he flies to Bristol to show Banksy and the reaction is poor. Clips of the film are presented in rapid-fire editorial style with explosions and sirens and static resulting in a disastrous piece of cinema verite. Banksy gently recommends that Thierry lend him the footage and go back to Los Angeles to put on an art show of his own so that he can work on his own version of the film. The alter ego Thierry conceives for his street art adventures is Mr. Brain Wash (MBW). MBW goes head on into the process, selling his business, hiring an army of artists, renting a former television studio and building the biggest street art show Los Angeles has ever seen. The result is an insanely successful art-show with Thierry becoming the heir apparent to Banksy and Fairey. A man with no artistic ability who appropriates Warhol into a street art aesthetic sells out his show, becomes a millionaire and gathers praise from collectors, casual fans and hipsters alike. That is the movie.

But, what is the movie really saying? Banksy is happy you like art and that you spend money on it. Banksy realizes that the chatter and recognition is fleeting and for the most part meaningless. Banksy wants you to know what a follower you are.

Banksy’s film takes on the convention, the pomp, circumstance and prestige of the art world and spray paints a red flag on its back. In “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” he turns a funhouse mirror on all of us who want to be on the inside. Those who want to create legacies and receive praise. It seems though that getting all of those things is as easy as collecting all your energies into one endeavor, pouring every cent and thought into it and simply taking what has been successful and appropriating it as your own.

Thierry’s endeavor into the art world is a screaming success, people at his art show lined around the corner, the same result of Banksy’s show a year earlier, with MBW having done nothing previously to warrant such attention. In fact, in less than a year MBW apparently materialized out of thin air and created a reputation as one of the edgiest and most brilliant living artists in the world. So, how did it happen? Or better, why? The hype machine, the fast food of it all is that Thierry, or Banksy, or whoever pulls the puppet strings, is showing us that anyone can be successful as long as they steal from other successful people. Either that, or as he mentions later, spend years working; learning, creating and maybe someone will take notice of your work. Or they won’t, what does it matter.

As we’ve seen with certain bloated artists who no longer make their own art, but instead hire an army of talented assistants to execute outlandish ideas that fan the egos and consciences of those conservative elitists who want to appear liberal and in on the joke, and spend their sometimes hard earned money to prove it.

Banksy appreciates your appreciation, but he also laughs at it.

The movie is a fun trip through the street artists life, a glimpse into their sense of humor and their penchant towards late night vigilantisms. It’s extremely enjoyable and most importantly a reminder that art is about expressing yourself and having fun.

~ Craig A. Platt