Sunday, April 18, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Perched in front of the camera Theirry Guetta is constantly moving. Legs pumping and arms waving, he narrates the story of his rise to infamy in the art world as if no one would believe it. And perhaps we shouldn’t. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is billed as “a Banksy film,” but Banksy, the notoriously reclusive street artist, appears in the film rarely, only with his face hooded and voice distorted. "Exit" is a film that looks like a documentary but feels like a con and a monumental joke.

Spanning over a decade and several continents, “Exit” tells of Mr. Guetta’s infiltration of the clandestine world of street artists, gunned by his cousin, the Parisian street artist Space Invader, and a psychotic obsession with video-cameras. Claiming to be a filmmaker, the diminutive Frenchman becomes an unlikely accomplice of a movement whose participants share a vandal’s fear of cameras. His continuous escapades cause thousands of hours of tape to accumulate and even land him a coveted introduction to Banksy. When the film stops chronicling popular street artists, it regains focus on the transformation of Mr. Guetta from a mere documenting witness into a street artist himself. Adopting the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash and prodded by Banksy, who acquired the thousand hours of tapes and filmmaking duties, Mr. Guetta stages an art show of what he is ecstatic to call his own work. The event, titled “Life Is Beautiful” garnered a cover story in LA Weekly thanks to statements from Shepard Fairy and even Banksy himself. The show displayed blatant knockoffs and cut-and-paste pop trash that’s fawned over by gullible bourgeois collectors. Interviews with giddy attendees give way to a snickering Banksy, who seems both gratified and slightly embarrassed by his role of puppeteer.

Whether acting as a genuine friend or constructing an elaborate con, Banksy has clearly found a new canvas for his subversive work. Shining light on the commodification of street art and the superficial behavior of many enthusiasts, Banksy mischievously pokes fun at the "next-big-thing" craze and the people who pursue it. Set to Richard Hawley’s underground pop anthem “Tonight the Streets Are Ours,” Banksy's prankumentary reminded me of why I like both street art and culture jamming.

It democratizes art.

It can send subversive and political messages.

Everyone can do it.

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