Thursday, April 15, 2010

Banksy Invites You to "Exit Through the Gift Shop"

If art imitates life, then what happens when art imitates art?

Those are the kinds of questions you find yourself asking after watching Exit Through the Gift Shop, the new documentary touted as elusive artist Bansky’s directorial debut. But, since it’s Banksy, we may never know if it’s simply a fascinating, illuminating documentary or another in the string of stunts he’s so famous for pulling.

In truth, the film is less about Banksy than it is about French videographer Thierry Guetta, the Forrest Gump of street art, a man whose obsessive need to document every moment of life led to his chronicling, under cover of darkness, across rooftops and down the sides of buildings, of some of the greatest graffiti artists of our time. Introduced by his cousin, Space Invader, Guetta finds himself at the inner sanctum of the movement, filming the likes of Shepard Fairey, Neckface, Swoon, Seizer, and, eventually, the man himself, Banksy.

But don’t get too excited. Though Banksy appears in the film, he’s hooded and shrouded in darkness, his voice obscured and warped, but it’s still the closest most people will ever come to seeing the man whose graffiti is considered to be the ultimate masterwork of the street art movement.

Attempting to follow in his footsteps, Guetta reinvents himself as Mr. Brainwash, the newest deity on the art scene, whose work is a derivative mishmash of all the truly great artists who came before him, homogenized and commodified. The audience can only watch in horror as his work is celebrated and gobbled up, selling one million dollars worth in just a few weeks.

Observing the artists whose work you’ve driven by a thousand times on La Brea or along Sunset is revelatory and engrossing, but watching the bastardization of the medium is as horrifying as anything that happens on Elm Street.

Was that Banksy’s point? Or are we looking too deeply into the film’s Rorschach test? We may never know but, at least, it’s something to think about long after the enjoyment of some great entertainment is over. And isn’t that what the best art does anyway?

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