“It turns out the joke is on…actually, I don’t know who the joke is on. I don’t know if there is a joke.”
So proclaims one of the characters in “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which was allegedly directed by the oh-so-mysterious street-artist/provocateur Banksy. Is the film actually a documentary? A mockumentary? Or as The New York Times calls it a prankumentary? Did Banksy really direct it? Does any of this matter at all?
Well, frankly, no, it doesn’t matter. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is an entertaining, somewhat informative and increasingly snarky film that occasionally meanders, loops back on itself and eventually just muddles forward. Ah, but it is entertaining.
The conceit of the film is that Thierry Guetta – the cousin of street artist Space Invader – obsessively videotaped hundreds of hours of street artists at work (Shepard Fairey, Zeus, etc.) over the course of several years on several continents and then eventually tried to make a movie about them, “Life Remote Control.” Banksy thought the film was a trainwreck and took over the making of the movie himself, while Guetta shifted gears and became a successful street artist himself, reincarnating himself as artiste-du-jour Mr. Brainwash.
It sounds like the perfect conceptual art put-on, something quite worthy of the world’s most famous anonymous artist. And the film doesn’t even attempt to draw a line in the sand between the truth and a possible con.
Ultimately, in keeping with the attitudes and priorities of the contemporary art world, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” isn’t really about art at all. But it’s a wonderful film about the art of self-promotion.
And it keeps bringing me back to my favorite Banksy quote. In an interview (by email, of course) with Time Out New York that was published in April, Banksy was asked, “What’s next?” In typical fashion, Banksy replied, “I’m thinking of quitting the art world. I want to do something a bit more creative.”
PS: Richard Hawley’s haunting “Tonight the Street’s Are Ours” is the perfect song to open and close the film. Whoever made that selection deserves an award of some kind.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is currently screening at the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany. (Where else did you think it would be?)
Oh, and you might want to check this out, too.