January 19, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop

By Robb Witmer Full  |  January 19, 2011



"I don't know who the joke is on," says Banksy's former art dealer in the closing moments of Exit Through the Gift Shop. "I don't even know if there is a joke."

If the joke is on anyone, it's on the people who hand over tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for works of street-art to put in their homes and galleries, the act of which renders these works forgeries, or at least cheap facsimiles, of actual street-art.

In this movie we learn that art is all that matters, and that art is also pure bull-shit. Street-art was the real punk rock for a while. It was taking back public spaces from "crap adverts," creating anonymous superstars, and developing a truly underground scene. Then it got popular.

On my second viewing of Gift Shop, it finally hit me what I was watching: a more sophisticated Windy City Heat. In that movie the joke was on someone who clearly has some sort of brain damage, while Gift Shop's Thierry Guetta is simply a clueless Frenchman.

The glaring difference, of course, is that with Windy City, the project was always the documentary. The movie was intended as the end result. For Banksy, the project was Thierry himself.

Which is why, maybe, some audiences could come to question the genuineness of the film. Clearly there's some sort of ruse going on here, but it's not that the documentary was staged, at least not in the standard sense.

Shepard Fairey admits that Mr. Brainwash is a creation, an up-and-coming street-artist simply because the right people — including himself — said so.

That Thierry doesn't actually make most Mr. Brainwash pieces himself is beside the point... Or, rather, IS the point. His success is the result of pure hype. He's playing the part, in real life.

It never occurs to Thierry that this is all he's doing, just as Windy City's Perry Caravello, even after watching the movie, still doesn't get that it was all a prank. (I wasn't joking about the brain damage.)

Does it even matter? The joke on Caravello was that he thought he was going to be the star of a movie, but you know what? He is the star of a movie.

Thierry might be a successful street-artist as a rusult of an elaborate hoax/art project put on by Banksy, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a successful street-artist.

Gift Shop isn't the swindle, Mr. Brainwash is, and it's Banksy's big "fuck you" to all the hipsters and cool people who made him successful. That's the most punk rock thing there is.


Robb Witmer Full thinks the joke might be on you.
@robbwitmer