Exit Through the Gift Shop

Yesterday I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop. I had seen several recommendations for the film and had bought a DVD copy on sale several months ago, but hadn’t taken the time to watch it.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting: possibly a film glorifying senseless vandalism. That might be why I took so long to see it.

But I was surprised. It is an interesting film touching on a various aspects of artistic activity.

Senseless vandalism got very little attention. The “Street Artists” portrayed were talented, imaginative and creative artists. They were filmed by Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant to America with an obsession for recording everything on video. His interest in Street Art started when he filmed his cousin known as “Space Invader” who makes mosaics based on the old Space Invaders computer game. After making the mosaics he glues them to a variety of public surfaces. Through this cousin Guetta met other artists who he was able to film at work.

His increasing ambition to film the famous but secretive British artist Banksy seemed destined to be unfulfilled until chance brought them together. After filming Banksy over a period of time, Guetta was pressured to do something with the countless hours of footage he’d filmed. The result wasn’t very impressive so Banksy took it into his own hands to put all of the videoed material to better use (the result being this film).

Starting as a record of Guetta’s encounters with various Street Artists, leading up to his time with Banksy, the film’s conclusion takes a different turn when Guetta goes to extreme lengths in following a suggestion that he try producing his own art.  (A suggestion made by Banksy to get Guetta out of the way while Banksy made use of the video footage).

More than a record of talented artists, the film gives a broad view of the extremes of the art world. It takes us from the artist on the street with a spray can and stencils, whose work may last only a matter of hours or days, and moves to extravagant “artistic”excesses based on hype and money where factory produced “art” created by hired staff sells for tens of thousands of $$$. (more than a hint of Warhol!)

It takes us from low cost art on the street to “art” as a high priced commercial product. In my opinion, the genuine expression of art, the genuine display of personal talent shown in the film, is that found on the street.