I finally got around to seeing the street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. This much hyped documentary is one of the more fascinating and entertaining films I have seen in a long time. It poses the age old question ‘what is art?’
Many people feel like (and there are clues to suggest) that this film is a manufactured experiment. An insiders joke orchestrated by the Master Prankster and the most well known street artist Banksy. A commentary on how easily the masses are “Brainwashed.” The film focuses on a French filmmaker named Thierry Guetta who seemingly transforms himself into an art star overnight and goes by the nom de plume Mr Brainwash. Even if this film is a complete work of fiction scripted for gullible audiences it still holds up as a fascinating commentary on the concept of Pop Art and a look into the birth of the Street Art movement. The idea that one can appropriate everyday items, utilize assembly line techniques, brand it and call it art has been called into question on the big screen.
Knowingly or unknowingly Exit Through the Gift Shop reveals that The Emperor that is Street Art has no clothes. The Street Art movement finds much of it’s inspiration from Andy Warhol’s factory and the assembly line techniques born out of that legendary space. This film places street artists in the very same cross-hairs that took aim on the mighty Warhol. In less than 6 months Mr Brainwash manufactures his own stardom utilizing the Warholian blueprint. The question arises, if all it takes to be an art star is a great marketing strategy and a craigslist ad (Which is how Mr Brainwash finds his little elves) then when does it cease to be art and start to be product? And it begs the bigger question, is this Pop Art movement all a big fraud? Are Warhol’s 15 minutes up?
I have been a fan of street art since the mid 90′s and after leaving the theatre I found myself really struggling with the question, is this art? Suddenly I challenged my own visceral appreciation of this movement because the process was being called into question on the big screen. It is this debate that make Exit Though the Gift Shop a stimulating and entertaining film.
Check out the trailer below.