When I watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop” in last November, I also wanted to ask the question many reviewers had already asked. We have heard about Banksy; although he has not revealed his identity yet, he is a well-known street artist who directed this funny documentary. But who is Thierry Guetta, the subject of Banksy’s documentary? After watching his documentary, some people thought it was a fake documentary intended as a prank, so there were some talks about whether it was about a true story or not.
Because the story in Banksy’s documentary is a lot more outrageous than fiction, I also could not completely believe it, but it seems the documentary is about a true story. According to Wikipedia, Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, indeed had his first exhibition show in 2008 at the former complex building of CBS in LA. In addition, as shown in the documentary, his exhibition show was really well-publicized by LA weekly, and it resulted in the long queue of people waiting outside the building to see his artworks.
Banksy, still hidden in the darkness in front of his camera, tells us how Thierry Guetta started to occupy his own place in the world of street art. Born in France, Guetta moved to LA later and became the proprietor of a clothes shop in LA. One day, his fascination with video camera began, and he recorded everything in his sight with his toy while hanging around LA. I still have some little doubt about his existence, but he is a funny guy whom you can listen to for hours with amusement on his unabashed enthusiasm, whether he is a hoax or not.
With his camera, he found a new target of his obsession. Through his cousin living in Paris, a street artist name Space Invader, he encountered the street art for the first time. His fascination with these guerrilla artists was instantly germinated. He soon started to shoot the work processes of every street artist he could approach to. Whether you approve of what these underground artists do in public with their graffiti, posters, and others(some are nice; the others are, well, let’s say they deserve to be removed, though I am not against their artistic freedom), you may agree that Guetta’s video footage gives us an interesting presentation of how these artists express themselves through their work. There is some guy who draws the outline of shadows on the road with paint at night. In case of Space Invader, he sticks his works, made of those small square plates from Rubik’s Cubes, on the walls around the cities.
While the stacks of his video tapes were being accumulated, Guetta had not been satisfied yet because he had not met one of the most famous street artists – Banksy. Fortunately, Guetta had been accepted as a good helper in Banksy’ field, so Banksy approached to him, and Guetta proved to him that he could be trusted while recording the people’s response to Banksy’s provocative installation artworks.
Meanwhile, Banksy’s popularity continued to rise. Banksy had his first exhibition show in LA and that boosted his fame further. Now his works were far pricier than before. When they auctioned one of his works, a distorted telephone booth, they started with $ 100,000. While I like his creativity, I do not know whether it deserves to be expensive like that. I can say it is as impressive as the modern artworks I appreciated in the Art Institute of Chicago, which were simply profound or profoundly simple.
Banksy thought it was the time to make a documentary about street art, and he asked Guetta to make a documentary assembled from Guetta’s vast amount of video tapes. The result, “Life Remote Control”, is something hilariously abysmal you have to watch for yourself. It looks like an avant-garde hybrid of Ed Wood Jr. and Michael Bay; Jean Luc-Godard’s “Film Socialism” is nothing compared to Guetta’s brainless obscurity. It seems to really have existed; its trailer was available on YouTube in 2006 – or was it a part of well-planned hoax?
Anyway, that was why, at least according to himself, Banksy decided to step in for stopping Guetta and made this documentary for himself. However, at that time, he gave quite a regrettable advice to Guetta, and, as a consequence, the second part of Banksy’s documentary becomes funnier than the first part which is already quite funny. Now the connoisseur of street art decides to become a street artist by himself, and he tries in a clumsy way to make you giggle in several moments. With the help of his artist friends including Banksy, his status is risen up with the publicity in the meantime.
Guetta surely has innocent enthusiasm, but does he really know about art as an artist? I know every artist is influenced by other artists in the past, but, in my view, Guetta, or Mr. Brainwash if you want, is like an artificial intelligence who absorbs other artists’ styles and mixes them to create his, uh, artistic vision. Although he is sincere about what he does, you will probably agree to the opinion of his employees in the documentary that he is an idiot as an artist. The documentary does not show much of Guetta working on his works; he usually has his assistants to do the jobs, or, if necessary, he randomly paints his works with spray paints.
Meanwhile, his pet project is blown out of the proportion in the former CBS building. In another hilarious moment, he goes through the stage every artist struggles through while preparing his/her first exhibition. He becomes less sure about himself, and he still cannot make decisions for himself while the time is running out. Even when the people are waiting outside of the building on the opening day, he has not decided yet about how to arrange his works in the building – the assistants eventually decide to put them as they like.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is one of the funniest documentaries I have seen in recent years. Whether Guetta can be called an artist or not, Banksy makes a good point about the weird dynamics in the world of the art. Maybe all you need to succeed as an artist is good promotion rather than real talent. If the concoction is right, they will accept you as an artist and buy your works at expensive price; Guetta proves that with big, preposterous result which confounds everyone around him. At the epilogue of the documentary, Banksy said he will not help make a documentary about street art any more. No wonder.