Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

*. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary that asks a couple of questions: one that I found annoying and the other quite significant.
*. First off, its subject is the street art movement as told through the eyes of a Frenchman who moves to Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta. Guetta adores street art and decides to start filming some of the leading practitioners, including Banksy and Shepard Fairey. He tries to make a documentary out of all his footage but it turns out to be a mess and Banksy (apparently) took over and edited it down to this film. Guetta, in the meantime, became a commercially successful street artist himself, adopting the persona of Mr. Brainwash.
*. So the first question is whether it’s real or if it’s fake, a documentary or mockumentary. On the fake side it’s even been said that Guetta is a total creation of Banksy, whose style he does seem to imitate pretty closely. Banksy himself has denied this.
*. The thing is, does it matter? Should it? I mean, Banksy is interviewed a lot here but he’s just a shadow wearing a hoody with a distorted voice. So is that even Banksy? Personally, this whole business sort of got my back up because I resented the implication that I should care if any of it was real, or who Banksy really is.
*. The second, more significant question has to do with what you think of Guetta’s work, or street art in general. I think a lot of it is very clever, marking an evolution of Andy Warhol and pop art into a new environment. And I like that it’s still a physical environment, because I guess NFTs were where all this was going.
*. But just as with pop art you have to wonder at the message. For example, I think Fairey and Banksy have a political bent in what they do, but with Guetta I’m not so sure. Also, it seems to me that in a movie like this you’re supposed to be cheering Guetta on as the little guy chasing his dream, but here he just seems like a phoney on the make. As with so much art in our age of irony, separating the fake from the authentic is difficult.
*. Is that Guetta’s point though? Let’s listen to his mentors trying to sum up at the end of the film.
*. Shepard Fairey: “Thierry’s obsession with street art, his becoming a street artist, a lot of suckers buying into his show, and him selling a lot of expensive art very quickly. It’s anthropologically, sociologically, it’s a fascinating thing to observe, and maybe there’s something to be learned from it.”
*. Banksy: “I don’t know what it means, Thierry’s huge success and arrival in the art world. I mean, maybe Thierry was a genius all along, maybe he got a bit lucky. Maybe it means that art is a bit of a joke.”
*. I don’t think Banksy feels that art is a joke, but I do get the sense that he thinks the art world is. So I suppose if you read this movie straight it’s mainly meant to expose or send up just how stupid that world and its focus on money and fame is. Which I think was Warhol’s aim at the end too.
*. I wouldn’t go any further than Fairey and Banksy do. Maybe there’s something to be learned here. Maybe it means . . . something. It’s an entertaining movie anyway, even if you’re watching a whole artistic movement swallowing its own tail.

17 thoughts on “Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

  1. Bookstooge

    I would kill every graffiti artist if I could. Those are not your signs. Those are not your buildings. I don’t care what they are “trying to express”, they are destroying someone else’s property to do so.

    Let them use great big canvases like real artists. And pay for it. If they can afford to make movies and buy voice modulators, well…..

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Oh, I figure Banksy can afford a canvas or two. They actually do show the police shutting down one of the artists here, who have to operate guerilla style at night. I agree that most graffiti is just defacing somebody else’s property, but some of it is good and some walls are actually improved by it.

      1. Bookstooge

        And if they’d turn out the northern lights when they left an area, you wouldn’t be left holding the bag.
        See, taking responsibility for their own actions, or their complete unwillingness to do so, is another reason I’m so against graffiti. It’s selfish, self-centered and tells everyone else they can just go take a flying leap.

        So yeah, you should turn off the northern lights when you go to sleep. It’ll help you, honest.

  2. Fraggle

    I quite like graffiti when it’s done well (sorry Booky) it’s good for photos, but I’m not really bothered who does it or who they are.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Really good stuff is so rare though. Most of what you see is just someone’s scribbled name or trademark. And most of this stuff isn’t even graffiti proper so much as it’s stencil work. It’s very pro quality.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      It can cover a lot of ground. Of course, it can just be advertising, not much different than a billboard. But a real street artist wouldn’t consider that art.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yes, there’s message art and then there’s the larger message that this style of art carries. I thought the movie was aware of that and at least tried to address it, even if the answers came off as a bit of a shrug.


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