04 October, 2010
LAUNCHPROJECTS - Ben and I saw Exit Through the Gift Shop at the Center for Contemporary Arts - the Banksy film we believed to be about street art and the arguably most famous street artist of all time, Banksy. Banksy, whose identity is a mystery, rose to international celebrity and acclaim with major exhibitions, movie star collectors (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera to name a few) and works being auctioned at Sotheby's in the mid six-figures. In classic "Banksy" irony, during the second day of the first Sotheby's sale that included his work (which was selling far beyond its six-figure estimates), Banksy updated his website to show an image of people bidding on his work the first day of the auctions with a caption stating "I Can't Believe You Morons Actually Buy this Shit" (pictured above).
Perhaps a continuum of a commentary to expose the commodification of street art in the extreme, the film Exit through the Gift Shop is startlingly not really about Banksy at all. It features the amateur film maker Thierry Guetta, who innocently and passionately takes to the streets to create THE seminal street art film from the "inside." He gets so "inside," however, that he becomes enchanted with the street art life and decides, with Banksy's encouragement, to abandon filmmaking to become a street artist in his own rite. The resulting project is a monumental-scale solo exhibition. Entitled “Life Is Beautiful," the production - it can hardly be called an exhibition - is a grotesque demonstration of what a man with a team of talented artists (for Guetta made none of the work himself) can accomplish. As aptly described by Jeanette Catsoulis of The New York Times "garnering a cover story in LA Weekly, (the show) appears to be a display of blatant knockoffs and cut-and-paste pop trash that’s nevertheless fawned over by gullible collectors."
Easily comparable to the film Untitled, Exit through the Gift Shop is a testament to the lemming-like behavior of many art collectors and critics. If the show is big enough, if it garners enough attention in the press, if it is perceived to be the next big thing, people will come and pay ridiculous prices simply to be considered in the loop. In one scene, before the show opens, the hype has drawn such attention that collectors are calling Guetta to pre-order works to the tune of $35,000 and beyond. Madonna commissioned Guetta to design the cover of her album of greatest hits. Again quoting The New York Times, "Banksy, who seems both gratified and embarrassed by his Frankensteinian role...mischievously exfoliates the next-big-thing hunger and the posers who pursue it".
Catsoulis, Jeanette. "On the Street, at the Corner of Art and Trash." New York Times. April 16, 2010.