“The movie is 100 percent real.”
– Mr. Brainwash
Since its 2010 theatrical release, Exit Through the Gift Shop has become one of the most talked about art documentaries of all time. In the film, the anonymous graffiti artist, Bansky, allows his career (and acts of vandalism) to be recorded by a seemingly innocuous filmmaker, Thierry Guetta. Guetta initially follows street artists like Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, documenting and obsessively cataloging a film history of the underground culture of street art.
As Guetta filmed, he witnessed the inner workings of the street art movement and the repeated motifs that define the individual artists and help to declare their presence. Guetta then became fascinated by Banksy and began to document his art. Eventually their interaction transforms the narrative. In the process of making public art, they have madcap but dangerous close calls with museum officials, the police, and in one case, the very serious security staff at Disneyland. The story turns upside down when the subject becomes the viewer and the focus shifts, placing the cameraman in the center of the story. As a result, the artist “Mr. Brainwash” is born.
Exit Through the Gift Shop has become the stuff of Internet rumors. Some remain convinced that Mr. Brainwash is a Banksy prank designed to play a trick on the general public, proving that Banksy can start an instant art phenomenon at any time or place. The rumor is hard to disprove because no one knows Banksy’s true identity. Fueling the rumor is the lack of information regarding the extent of Mr. Brainwash’s art sales. Is his prolific yet derivative brand name really taking off, or is the hype itself a hoax?
The film also sparked debates about the nature of art. Can art really be art if it’s manufactured on a mass scale? What about the artist’s hand, the hard work that goes into each piece? Is art merely the idea behind the creation? Is Banksy Mr. Brainwash? Is the movie a lie? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The viewer takes part in the vicarious excitement of these talented pranksters who manage to pull a fast one on the elite art world, an exclusive group that would love for the public to believe that art can’t be spontaneous, controversial and valuable at the same time. Banksy and Mr. Brainwash master the game of media hype while poking irreverent fun at the concept of fame and blue chip artists.
Whatever you believe after seeing the film, you’ll never look at street art the same way.
Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in southern California. She can be reached at www.mindtheimage.com.