Review: Banksy’s ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’

Last night I had the opportunity to see the U.S. premiere of the new Banksy film Exit Through The Gift Shop and I have to say that I loved it.

The story is about a French guy living in Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta who started documenting the street art scene in the late 90’s thanks to his cousin, whom you may know as Space Invader. Eventually he was hanging out with all the big guns like Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Ron English, Buff Monster, so on and so forth. But the one guy he couldn’t get a hold of was Banksy, and it became his goal to document him. Soon enough that time came and they did get acquainted, and what’s more, became friends.

Then one day Banksy mentions to Thierry that he should start making his own art and leave his tapes with Banksy. He did both of these things, which is where this movie came from, but Thierry also ended up creating the alter ego Mr. Brainwash. Here in Los Angeles the Mr. Brainwash show was hyped immensely, people lining up around the block to see it. That’s sort of the whole point of the movie, that this guy who documented these amazing artists for years, who never did art himself, was suddenly selling millions of dollars worth of “art” without ever having done anything really.

To me the movie is split into two acts, the first half is about Thierry, a documentarian who’s footage rivals that of Beautiful Losers, it’s that epic. But then in the second act, because of Banksy’s suggestion, Thierry creates Mr. Brainwash and thus becomes obsessed with himself, no longer concerned with documenting these artists. He starts ripping off basically every major street and pop artist of the last 30 years and puts a huge price tag on all of it. I feel this strategy differs from Banksy because Banksy makes art that’s his based on his point of view, while Mr. Brainwash created art to make money, refinancing his house and spending all his money to make his show happen.

The premiere itself was quite fun and interesting. For example, Banksy paid for the whole thing himself, all the booze, the cars out front, the space, there was no branding anywhere. The celebrities were out in force as well, including Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel, Pete Wentz, Ashley Simpson, Darryl Hannah, Juliette Lewis and Adrian Brody. I also saw James Mercer and Danger Mouse, the latter I had a very brief conversation with but he was very friendly, so that was fun.

If you have the chance to see this film I’d definitely suggest it. If you understand the street art scene, and I apologize for using a generic and possibly elitist phrase, then you’ll understand why this movie is important, especially in the context of “What is art?”. My favorite line of the movie was something to the effect of, “The joke is on… well, I don’t know who the joke is on. I don’t even know if there is a joke.”

More photos under the cut.


April 13, 2010