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A Juxtapoz Review: Exit Through The Gift Shop

Juxtapoz // Wednesday, 31 Mar 2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Review by George Koroneos



Exit Through The Gift Shop is a documentary about Thierry Guetta, an obsessive compulsive Frenchman who made a fortune reselling crappy clothing at high-end prices, and chose to spend his free time taping every moment of his life. He is an affable, often unintentionally hysterical videographer who wormed his way into the street art movement after filming his cousin, the legendary French 8-bit mosaic artist Invader.


There's just one granule that rattles in the back of the mind—Guetta might be famed stencil artist Banksy, and the audience might be getting played in a Borat-style spoof documentary. Banksy, a masterful prankster could be pulling the wool over everyone's eyes and we would never really know. He spends his time on camera shrouded under a hood, his voice masked with a vocoder, wryly narrating the story and tossing out the occasional one-liner. Whether or not the two are one and the same, this film is a fabulous look into the world of underground art (stencils, wheat pasting, and traditional graffiti), and the gullible art elite that appear to be riding the next big thing just to make a buck.



The first half of the movie is comprised of a sampling of the thousands of hours of low-fi footage Guetta supposedly captured of the burgeoning street-art scene. He filmed the artists with a vague promise that the tapes would be culled into a documentary about the underground movement, and most of the artists were happy to oblige.


Guetta tore through enough tape during the past decade to easily give Miroslav Tichy a run for his money, and like the erratic photographer, Guetta never intended to show any of the tape in public. In fact, he nonchalantly comments that he hadn't viewed a minute of the footage, and hardly anything was labeled or cataloged.


What makes Exit truly fascinating is the “inside” footage of the artists just doing their thing. Viewers get to see a young Shepard Fairy printing massive Obey Giant posters at a Kinkos, and Invader trying to explain to police why his work isn't really vandalism. You see the level of risk the artists take to display their work in public, and even some of hilarious foibles that occur when they (mostly Guetta) try to move around in the dark with paint and a camera. The only film this can be compared to is the equally enjoyable doc Propaganda: The Art & Crimes of Ron English about English (who also makes a guest appearance in Exit).


When Guetta teams up with Banksy, viewers get a firsthand look into the artist's studio and how he goes about creating some of the large-form sculptures that “magically” appear in major cities. There is no smoke and mirrors here. Most of the work is done in plain daylight, and people are just too engulfed in their day-to-day routine to notice the corpse of a slain telephone booth being planted in an alley.


Guetta offers Banksy the opportunity to see the reaction on the faces of pedestrians, and Guetta—acting as a tourist—even captures interviews and commentary from locals. Yes, everyone is a critic.


While the first half of the film is largely Guetta's film about street artists and his quest for Banksy, the second half is largely Banksy's tale of Guetta's venture into the fine-art industry.


Guetta turns into the Spinal Tap of the art world, sinking all his money into an art factory and dubbing himself Mr. Brainwash (MBW). Most of the paintings consist of portraits of celebrities done up in the style of Warhol's Marylin Monroe as well as aerosol spray cans fabricated to look like Campbell Soup cans. The irony is so apparent it slaps you across the face—twice. Proving that a sucker is born every minute, the public bought into the hype and turned out in droves for his opening, spending more than a million dollars on the mediocre work and vindicating MBW as an artist.


“It's not Gone with the Wind, but there is a moral to [Guetta's story],” Banksy says at the start of the film. But at the end, Banksy ponders the moral and has no answer. Originally, it appears as if Guetta is doomed to fail due to lack of artistic integrity, experience, and quality work, but instead he succeeds on such a huge level that the film makes the bourgeois people who buy street art look like idiots. “Suckers bought his art,” Fairey comments on the success of Guetta's first show.


Indeed they did, and it looks like the justly deserved buzz about Exit will only continue to fuel MBW's career. Whether Banksy and Guetta are the same person remains to be seen (and we'll probably never know), but the greatness of Exit Through the Gift Shop is unquestionable—It's a movie that works on almost every level, and is well worth watching when it opens wide on April 16th, 2010.



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