I recently sat down and watched the documentary entitled “Exit Through The Gift Shop” after a friend made a positive comment about it. I was aware of the film and especially after my name has two of the most recently known names in European art circles (Ben the french artist who writes phrases in French on a canvas and Banksy the ‘secret’ street artist who has never been identified or supposedly even photographed), my curiosity grew after I had read some reviews calling into question whether the film was a work of fiction or an actual documentary. Suffice to say I won’t wade into the pool of whether it was or wasn’t genuine. I enjoyed the film and found it entertaining and surprising.

Entertaining because the characters appear to take themselves lightly but you can tell underneath the facade they take themselves very seriously. Despite this, all are easy to spend time with, except  two people (the promoter hired by Banksy to assist in Thierry’s L.A. show and some surgically over-enhanced middle aged woman bragging how she has a Warhol work somewhere packed away in a box but a Banksy piece right up in a prominent wall in her home.)

Surprising, as the film raised some relevant questions about the business practices used by promoters, galeries and the upper class auction houses that have gotten involved in the high-price/ high-brow world of pop art. It begs to ask how one artist can ‘create’ their art by using copyrighted images from other media and advertising; images that were photographed and/or created by another earlier artist or advertising team; run around spray painting their stenciled images on public and private property but in the end turn around and give the arched eyebrow and a condescending comment about Thierry because he does the same thing they do but with a massive  labor intensive effort and a compressed time frame of weeks. One artist mentions that Thierry missed out on the ‘perfecting of his craft’ and that his art looks like everyone else’s. He’s right. In fact, this is all the art I see in the shops and galeries from St. Tropez to Monte Carlo. And yes, it all looks the same. The sad thing is, in the film, never once do you hear someone say ‘It’s beautiful’ or get lost looking at whatever work is being displayed. They see it, shrug or nod and then move on to the next piece exactly as if they had just consumed a sandwich. Hmmmm, food for thought.

And all this happens after Thierry’s show brings in a reported 1 million dollars. It seems that he has won the jackpot. However, there is no mention of how much money Thierry may have spent on working and getting the show together (a remortgage loan by putting up his home and business gives him capital) and whether, after additional costs and paying his staff of 20, he even makes a profit.

Keeping in mind that Banksy is credited with directing the film or at least taking what footage he felt was important, molding it into a strong story arc and obviously retaining editing control before the film was released, it serves to remind you that you are watching what he wants to show you and your attention is directed where he wants it to go.

The film states that it’s about Banksy turning the camera back onto someone who was trying to get Banksy on camera.Well yes and no. Originally, the film had nothing to do with Banksy per say. Thierry eventually wandered into that direction after months of taping graffiti artists and they in turn raving about how great Banksy was at not getting caught.(Indeed extraordinary given the UK’s reputation for CCTV camera’s being everywhere). He became the only one that Thierry didn’t have access to. And Thierry thrived on access.

One thing that is glaring is the fact that these artists all have huge cavernous work spaces in cities with the highest real estate prices in the world. Even renting these out of the way warehouses is expensive and I think tells us that these artists are kids from moneyed families; that Mom and Dad has been financing their ‘artistic’ craft. With the amount of material, labor and transportation costs entailed, I think it’s safe to say this is a case of culture disguising itself as counter culture. I think anyone can agree that culture has always bred counter culture and made it it’s golden goose for making money in the end.

The film I think brings to fore the artist’s (Banksy and others) uncomfortableness with their own success whether it be financial or in pop culture acceptance . They in essence have achieved what they based their whole image and work on; being the outsider, the counter-culture, the have-nots, their identity as working class and the continued fight against mass pop culture and the ‘brand’. They are in essence the brand now. And some; especially Banksy; have been rewarded very well financially. But they struggle, I suspect, with the realization that they have crossed into this other realm and they are now the ‘brand’ or at least a target that some other upcoming ‘counter culture’ artist in the coming years will either make the subject of their disdain or just simply make them the butt of  a joke about the commercialization of  modern pop art.

In the beginning the film tips the viewer with this little nugget; that Thierry could take a 50 dollar bag full of discarded, forgotten about and no longer hip clothing and turn around and sell it for 5,000 dollars simply by stating that the irregular stitching on an article of clothing was ‘designer’. All he had to do was hype it.

I think in the end, these artists must feel like that bag of clothes. And the one question an artist always has nagging in the back of his mind is “Am I really  doing something original or …something  thats already been done before? Am I really good? Or am I just hype?”

In the end ,it  just may be a question of “Who’s fooling whom?”

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