Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Starring: Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Invader; Rhys Ifans, narrator
Banksy has made counterfeit 10 pound notes with Princess Diana as the regal monetary icon, painted beautiful images with spray cans on the West Bank wall dividing Palestine from the rest of Israel and sculpted a huge red telephone booth—and then “murdered” it by smashing a pickaxe into its side. He’s the most successful street artist in the world, with work selling in galleries for over $500,000.
Now he’s made a film, a prankster doc, which is purportedly about him and the street art scene. But Exit Through the Gift Shop is another subversive Banksy art piece. Although he does appear in the film along with Shepard Fairey, Invader and other well-known graffiti artists, this funny, abrasive doc concentrates on Thierry Guetta, a French expatriate living in Los Angeles.
Guetta apparently made a fortune selling trashy “vintage” clothing to L.A.’s young hipsters and has spent most of the last decade documenting Fairey, Ron English, Dominatrix and other street art iconoclasts. Even the notoriously evasive Banksy supposedly becomes Guetta’s friend and documented subject.
But when Guetta tries to edit together his footage, the resulting film—glimpsed briefly in this “doc”—resembles a maddening, poorly created Koyaanisqatsi. Banksy is shown the rough cut by Guetta, and he is so shocked by its poverty of ideas and appalling technique that he decides to take the footage and make a real film out of it. Guetta agrees and, when told by Banksy to “go home and be an artist,” sets out to do exactly that.
With what appears to be an endless supply of money, Guetta becomes Mr. Brainwash, a Warhol to Basquiat to Banksy pop artist. Employing scads of young designers, painters and craftspeople he “creates” hundreds of pop art “knock-offs,” much like his “vintage” clothing. When the exhibit opens, it becomes a run-away success, making Guetta a rich man.
Banksy is horrified. So is Fairey. Have they created a Frankenstein?
Exit Through the Gift Shop leaves us pondering that question but here’s another: does Guetta really exist? Is he Banksy in an elaborate disguise? Is this a documentary or a prank?
Whatever it is, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a brainy, funny film, one that lovers of art and pop culture will definitely enjoy.