Exit Through the Gift Shop: DVD

Mar 29, 2011

Legendary streetartist Banksy’s film Exit through the Gift Shop is now on DVD, a great roller coaster ride that is not only an entertaining mystery but a pinpoint observation on today’s art world. The film explores the underground street art scene and its anonymity, then segueways into the notions of art vs. vandalism, appreciation vs. random collection, and spontaneity vs. calculated hype. 

The documentary is made by a talented street artist that goes by the name Banksy. No one knows who he is, successfully staying anonymous for years now. People care about who he is because his art has the great combination of being both beautiful and something that makes a statement. The fact he is still unknown after being successful at putting art up around the world—and also selling it on occasion at the luxurious Sotheby’s—just pumps up the mystique.

Street art as a subject is deceptive. It’s packed with power, but many dismiss it. It’s layered with the connotation: well that’s nice and pretty, but I could have done that. But you have to remember, you didn’t do it. And that’s a big thing. An even bigger thing is— why don’t you do it? Take a stand, mark a wall, be a pirate—but have something to say.

Exit covers the best street artists because it’s really a documentary about this guy Thierry, who is a sort of maniac with a video camera. He got obsessed on his cousin, the artist Space Invader, then on Shepard Fairey (Andre the Giant Has a Posse), before being lucky enough to become Banksy’s Dad-with-a-camera, following him around the world. Thierry’s hours and hours (probably adding up to literal years) of footage makes Exit not only fun but important. When Thierry fails to make his own art documentary out of the footage, Banksy steps in with a team and makes the film instead, focusing on the art scene but also on Thierry, who careens out of control and becomes an artist on steroids nicknamed Mr. Brainwash.

Banksy’s work, as is the case with most street art, makes the police and government very mad. If not for the simple case of vandalism, then for the very specific social and political criticism the art has. Many times, it’s just art on a wall. At its best, it makes a strong statement. My favorite art is also existential, making you notice things you might miss in life. With the best artists, it’s all these things.

Then it gets confusing—once Banksy’s art started selling for huge amounts of money, the establishment started caring. If he tags a wall, it’s either stolen—the wall is stolen—or the owner carefully covers it with Plexiglas or something to preserve it. And if the art was intended to make a statement, how is the statement changed when it becomes an object for sale?

I think the film really says all the things we want to hear about art—it’s great and should be free—and people with money might be fucking it all up. But then, who takes the money that’s spent? It’s complex.

Mr. Brainwash is such a perfect villain that it’s hard to believe it’s not all a master plan by Banksy to comment on the art world, with Thierry being Tony Clifton to Banksy’s Andy Kaufman. That said, Thierry does seem crazy and out of control on his own. Earth is a fucking strange place.

Extras: “More brainwashing” is more charming footage of Thierry that was cut out of the film and is interesting but not vital. The supposed documentary that Thierry was making, Life Remote Control, that no one seems to think was ever made, is on the extras (but only fourteen minutes worth). It feels like more outtakes, but it’s cool, with interview footage of Ron English, Shepard, Malcolm McLaren, and other citizens of the night. (banksyfilm.com)