Exit Through the Gift Shop Hoax?

by: Woodrow Rogers

In class there has been a lot of discussion about street art and the artist Banksy.  So after our recent journal entry on the Simpsons into that was directed by Banksy I took it upon myself to do a little research on his rise to international popularity.  His recent international celebrity status seems to be a direct result of the film that he directed\produced\edited.  I’m not exactly sure what you would label his involvement in the film.  For those who have not seen the film or are unfamiliar with the work of Banksy, Exit through the Gift Shop is the title of a documentary style film about street artists as filmed by amateur camera man and vintage clothing store owner Thierry Guetta.  Guetta eventually evolves into a street artist himself or maybe a cheap imitation of one.  Just as a side note.  There are many shots of his art in the portion that documents his art show.  One piece in particular caught my eye.  I had to pause the dvd for closer examination.  And sure enough, I had seen this piece before.  Just last summer I was visiting friends in New York, I came across this piece on a wall near Chinatown.  I thought it was interesting and took a picture.

In this piece the words “life is beautiful” are written in red. This was the title of Thierry Guetta’s (aka Mr. Brainwash) art show in Los Angeles.

On the surface this is a film about a quirky somewhat eccentric Frenchman with a camera and an obsession with several world famous street artists.  But to me, there seem to be multiple levels of irony or sarcasm at work here.  Much of Mr. Brainwash’s art is a sarcastic copy of the work of Andy Warhol, who made his name by doing almost the exact same thing.  The idea is to take something that is iconic of our culture and modify it slightly.  By changing the color or repeating the image over and over the effect its meaning can be obscured or changed completely in some cases.  To copy Andy Warhol is to be a copy of a copy and that is where I think the joke lies.  It is my belief that the entire film is an elaborate hoax.  It is a well executed and completely dead pan practical joke on the art industry.  The film pokes fun at the commercial nature of the art world.  Mr. Brainwash, is an unknown artist yet he achieves celebrity status overnight with his guerilla marketing techniques.  He basically dupes the art community of Los Angeles out of a million dollars. The secrecy surrounding Banksy is so well planned that it makes me think that Banksy might not be one person.  Perhaps Banksy is a collaboration of artists.   And as for the events in the film, I’m sure that there was an art show for Mr. Brainwash that made vast amounts of money, but I am not sure that Thierry Guetta is a real person.

Above is an iconic piece of Pop Art by Warhol. Below is a piece by Mr. Brainwash.

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