Sunday, May 30, 2010

Laughing all the way - Banksy

**Spoiler Alert**

Exit Through The Gift Shop

I'm going to play it safe and say that 'Exit Through The Gift Shop" is an elaborate hoax. Ostensibly a film about street artists and one eager and clumsy Frenchman - who follows them around videotaping them as they tag walls with spray paint and pasted paper images - the film is really about the nature of art and the art world. Although while watching it you won't necessarily detect the message; it is made with such a brisk and entertaining pace.

Watching it I was caught up in the whole thing until everyone in the film became critical of the Frenchman - Thierry Guetta aka Mr Brainwash. It then occurred to me that if the film was made by Banksy there is just no way he would put himself in front of the camera and openly be hostile toward Mr Brainwash while at the same time also interviewing him. In other words, if the film had been made by someone else the hoax would have played itself out more convincingly.

That said, it is a rather brilliant film specifically because Banksy fires his arrows right through the heart of the art world. There is one scene where he has an art opening in LA near skid-row in some warehouse. The centerpiece of the show is a real live elephant. Here we see the literal and figurative come together quite succinctly. Banksy knows that the elephant in the room is that people are willing to shell out thousands [or millions] of dollars for just about anything done by an artist with a name.

As Banksy spins his yarn our hero Thierry Guetta puts down his camera and takes up street art on a whim and takes the moniker 'Mr Brainwash'. Soon he is creating work that he and the art world feel is worthy of Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader and many of the others he apparently followed for a while with his camera. And he gets so caught with the bug he buys a studio and [Warhol-like] hires a bunch of people to mass produce intriguing art prints. Or, so it seems. He then goes on to create a huge show to be presented in CBS’s Columbia Square. If you are asking yourself, "How the hell...?" Trust me, go with your gut. It couldn't be funded by him. Banksy is all over it and Mr Guetta is simply fronting as an artist in the studio - which, again, is mass produced work. Hardly original or difficult if you have the capital, some graphic designers and a vague idea of what you want. [Warhol did it extremely well].

Anyway, the LA Weekly fell for Mr Brainwash's 'Life is Beautiful' show big time back in 2008. And it makes you realize that the press can be easily duped if the hype seems legit. [Although, who knows, maybe they played along?] In this case, Banksy and Fairey promoted the show. So what's not to love, then? If some unknown Frenchman did an art show of provocative graffiti images it would barely register a blip with most of us. But the value of promotion - in this case hoaxmotion - and some press coverage suddenly thrust this character into the spotlight.

So the bigger question might be, "What the hell is art?" Ah ha! Ask Arthur Danto who will tell you it's just about anything if people accept it as such. Have a problem with that? Look, if you're willing to shell out the cash for something you truly like then that's great. Watch the great documentary 'Herb and Dorothy' if you want to see pure art lovers who are really only in it for the art. But if you are merely a collector hoping to have the latest and greatest to keep up with the buzz of the art world then Banksy has a message for you with this film.

So yeah, Banksy's got to be loving this because he is at once showing how utterly bankrupt and gullible the art world is as well as showing us his role in it. But too, the problem I see is that Banksy is as phenomenally cynical as he is talented. He tips his hat to Andy Warhol as well as Orson Welles' 'F is For Fake' all the while making money and truly laughing all the way to the bank. See?


For reasons that I cannot fathom Roger Ebert seems to think Guetta is the real thing.

Is this Banksy?

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