Thursday, February 10, 2011

Exit Through the Giftshop


Last night I watched the documentary about street artists, Exit Through the Giftshop. The film was mostly compiled from video shot by entrepeneur Thierry Guetta who, through chance and luck and because he recorded everything - everything - got involved in the street art revolution. If the movie had been simply about the artists rather than what happened I would be fine with this movie. But what happened was a lash-out at Guetta from these same street artists he was filming after Guetta began making street art himself and, incidentally, became an overnight sensation.

Banksy, the most mysterious of all street artists, and Shephard Fairey, the artist that did the iconic picture of President Obama, are mostly to blame, but Guetta isn't faultless either. Guetta went about filming these street artists but he never meant to make a documentary about them: he just loved filming. After Banksy became an international street artist celebrity, he wanted to make a documentary about it and thought Guetta was the man for the job. It turned out Guetta wasn't so Banksy took over filmmaking duties, telling Guetta to do some street art himself.

Guetta sells the clothing store he owns to pay for the materials he'll need for his art (this includes a workshop with full-time employers and screen-printing press, etc.) Seeing many of his fellow street artists moving off the walls of buildings into gallery openings and a semblance of celebrity, Guetta, not to be outdone, wants to do the same. He calls himself MBW: Mr. Brainwash. Through some pretty serious luck, MBW is featured on the cover of LA Weekly, the premier art magazine of Los Angeles, and his show has 4000 guests the first night. He sells almost a million dollars worth of merchandise.

The street artists - those who cut their teeth on building facades and trains and towers, artists like Banksy and Fairey - turn on their friend Guetta. They are this close to calling him a hack. As a writer who is cutting his teeth in the publishing world (23 rejections and counting), I understand this reaction to some degree: it grates when I hear about a writer who I know hasn't had any rejections getting published. You need battle scars if you're going to survive the industry, or so we're told. At the same time, I'm also reasonable enough to recognize when someone has written something great and, whether or not they have a backlog of rejections, it should be published. Some people get lucky like that. Some of us come out of the woodwork fully ready; others of us take our time.

Guetta was excellent at incorporating aspects of Banksy and Fairey into his own strange brand of street art. The thing I think bothered these two "real" street artists the most, however, is that Guetta made art as good as they had and as well received without working for years on the streets. Even more ridiculous is the film Banksy made has been nominated for an Oscar. Should other documentarians feel threatened by or upset with Banksy for making an interesting film? Well, if they're like Banksy is about his art then they should be. If they're not assholes, then no. No one likes to be outdone in their field by an artist without the relative needed experience, but sometimes these things can't be helped.

Of course, there is speculation that the entire film is a hoax designed by Banksy. If this is the case then "ha ha, Banksy, ha ha." If not, then my argument stands: don't be an ass because someone has made art as good as or better than yours; and if you're going to be, don't put it on film.

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