KATHMANDU: The widespread speculation that Exit Through the Gift Shop is a hoax only adds to its fascination. An anonymous London graffiti artist named Banksy arrives to paint walls in Los Angeles. He encounters an obscure Frenchman named Thierry Guetta, who has dedicated his life to videotaping graffiti artists.
The Frenchman’s hundreds of tapes have been dumped unorganised into boxes. Banksy thinks they might make a film. Guetta makes a very bad one. Banksy takes over the film and advises Guetta to create some art himself. Guetta does, names himself Mr Brainwash, and organises an exhibition of his work through which he makes a fortune in sales.
Surely Guetta cannot be real? With his dashing mustache and Inspector Clouseau accent, his long-suffering wife and his zealous risk-taking to film illegal artists by stealth? Surely he didn’t rent a former CBS television studio and transform it into an exhibition space? Surely people didn’t line up at dawn to get in — and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the works of an artist who had never held a show, sold a work or received a review? Surely not if his work looked like art school ripoffs of the familiar styles of famous artists?
The film depends entirely on Guetta, a combination TV pitchman, a cartoon Frenchman and a chatty con man. Its footage really has been edited from a decade of tapes made clandestinely while LA graffiti artists risked arrest and death to create their paintings in spectacular places. Guetta fearlessly followed them right out into ledges and helped them carry supplies to places a human fly might balk at. All the time he’s talking, talking, telling his life story and of his hero worship for these artists.
Some graffiti is certainly art, as Norman Mailer was one of the firsts to argue in his book The Faith of Graffiti (1974). Banksy and others at his level, such as Guetta’s hero, Shepard Fairey, find ways to visually reinvent public spaces and make striking artistic
But what does Guetta do? One of
his artworks, inspired by Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can, shows a can of tomato spray paint. Ok, that’s witty enough for a nice editorial cartoon. How many thousands would you
spend to have it in your house? Or a morph of Joan Crawford and Andy’s Marilyn? Then again, at the time people said Andy Warhol wasn’t creating art,
either. Surely Warhol’s message was that Thierry Guetta has an absolute right to call his work art, and sell it for as much as he can.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is an admirable and entertaining documentary; I believe it is not a hoax; I would not much want a Thierry Guetta original; I like Thierry Guetta, and Banksy, the creator of this film, is a gifted filmmaker whose thoughts, as he regards Guetta, must resemble those of Victor Frankenstein when he regarded his monster: It works, but is it Art?
The answer to that lies in how much people rave over the Mona Lisa. Some argue that her beauty has been captured by Da Vinci. Others say what beauty? So in the end art like almost everything else in this world, lies in the eyes of the beholder. Personally I think that the child art painted on the wall outside the Himalaya Hotel did much to find even more beauty in our city. But hammers and sickles cruelly painted sorry but no. Why can’t the people behind the hammer and sickle or whatever party higher graphic artist? Thierry Guetta getting a million dollars from his exhibition during the very first week.