Exit Through the Gift Shop

tn_exitI finally caught up with the heavily hyped, Academy Award nominated, tired of reading about it when I haven’t seen it yet documentary EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. I tried to look it up and apparently I am the very last person left who wanted to see it but hadn’t. But I guess wikipedia is not always the most reliable source, so in case they overlooked anybody I’ll explain what it is:

some French guy in L.A. named Thierry Guetta becomes obsessed with videotaping street artists, he goes out with them for years recording as they sneak around at night pasting up giant xeroxes of heads and shit, they let him into their Batcaves because they believe he’s telling their story in a definitive documentary. But then when he tries to edit it into a movie he makes an unwatchable piece of Jim-Morrison-in-film-school-meets-Tony-Scott-circa-DOMINO bullshit called LIFE REMOTE CONTROL. So the legendary British street artist Banksy (who’s credited as director) asks if he can take a crack at editing Thierry’s boxes of random, unlabeled and unchronological footage into something a human being might want to purposely watch. And while Banksy plays documentarian they sort of switch places – the videotaper guy tries to make himself into a big time street artist, instant Shepard Banksy.

Basically it’s the same plot as THE MECHANIC. Charles Bronson teaches Jan Michael Vincent how to be an assassin but then Jan Michael Vincent tries to kill him at the end.

mp_exitIt’s an interesting movie, but a simple one. I should’ve seen it without all the buildup. The dumb thing is I really wanted to see it before the hype anyway. I think I first learned about Banksy when he made his own version of Paris Hilton’s CD and “reverse shoplifted” it into Virgin Megastores so that people would accidentally buy it. When I read about that I looked him up and found pictures of his funny, clever, sometimes powerful stenciled street images that turned cement into trap doors or windows or Charles Manson standing on the side of the street hitchhiking. I watched that video of him smuggling his paintings into museums. I got that book about him. I wondered how the hell he did it when I read about him sneaking (for a couple minutes) a hooded Guantanamo Bay prisoner dummy into the landscape of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. So I was excited that there was a movie about Banksy, or by him, or whatever this was.

It is a little bit about Banksy, and although he continues to hide his face and voice there are a few revealing moments. I like the part where he’s showing Thierry his studio and digs up a box of realistic currency he made up with Princess Di’s face on it. He explains that he was gonna throw it out windows but got scared when he realized he’d made a million pounds of counterfeit money.

And they show that whole Disneyland incident from the inside. Turns out it was kind of spur of the moment and it was inflatable. So that explains how he carried it in there.

As an aside I gotta say I kind of resent the movie’s implication that there’s something sinister about the security swooping in. Of course they have to figure out what’s going on and make sure everything’s safe. They don’t want it to turn out to be the beginning of some crazy plot, or for some inflatable dummy carrying dipshit to get his head chopped off by a rollercoaster. I’m glad they have security like that, ’cause if some maniac or terrorist tries to pull some shit to ruin Disneyland for the rest of us I want them to be taken care of by some serious black-ops of the Caribbean, not bumbling rent-a-cops. And also I don’t want nincompoops who climb over fences to get run over (which is the cause of the vast majority of deaths that have happened at Disneyland [not that those people are nincompoops, my thoughts and prayers go out to their families, etc.]).

So lay off Disneyland, and I will not budge on that. Even though Star Tours was the first thing I thought of when I heard the title of this movie.

Anyway, this is not a thorough documentary on Banksy or on street art in general. It’s also not the most in-depth documentary footage of Shepard Fairey (the “Obey Andre the Giant”/Obama “Hope” poster guy who introduces Thierry to Banksy) – I know I’ve seen one about him before, I thought maybe it was a segment in Doug Pray’s INFAMY, but the IMDb doesn’t agree with me.

Anyway, I’d like to see that movie, and the access that Guetta had to all these great artists during their clandestine night time runs makes you imagine a great one, but judging from the footage you see and the obvious lack of planning I believe them when they say there was no way to really use it. It wasn’t alot of talking or planning or even clear shots of the finished work, it was just him following these dudes sneaking around.

So what the movie is really about, and what’s most interesting about it, is this character, this goofy, upbeat Frenchman with the old timey sideburns. He’s kind of a hanger on who idolizes these guys, and doesn’t have alot of common sense so there’s a couple funny parts where Fairey has to tell him to turn off lights or stand in certain places and ask him if he understands why what he was doing was calling attention to them.

But as he does it more and more he actually does become knowledgeable enough to be a big help to them, to act as a lookout, bring artists to the best spots, connect them with collaborators and stuff like that.

The last act, where Thierry becomes “Mr. Brainwash,” is also pretty funny, illustrates Banksy-as-director’s point about art becoming a commodity and brings up questions about what is art, what is good art, is Banksy’s art that’s painted on a wall and gets scrubbed off more valuable to culture than this other guy’s art that’s hung in a gallery and sold for thousands of dollars (hint: yes). And it even questions Banksy’s own ideas because he thinks everybody should create art but then obviously resents the derivative and circusy way that his buddy ends up doing it.

Also it’s interesting because although alot of the Mr. Brainwash art (like the Andy Warhol redos) is really obvious and stupid, it does look like the whole spectacle of the show would’ve been pretty cool to go to, what with its TVs stacked into the shape of giant robots and grafitti everywhere and what not.

So I liked the movie but I gotta admit I didn’t love it. I think these points are more cute than profound. I guess to me the interesting part is the street, not the art – the way the movie promotes the value of putting art in public spaces, although it’s illegal. Because to me and the majority of humans an art gallery or especially a high priced art auction has no relevance in our lives. We will never see an auction unless you count the scene in MONEY TALKS where he tries to buy the expensive car that has drugs stashed in it. So although it might be interesting as an abstract idea we really only give between .25 and 1.2 shits about if some rich assholes get swindled and pay too much for some bad paintings or whatever. And we already saw WILD STYLE so we know that the grafitti artists got ruined when they started making a play for the legal art world (except for the late Rammellzee). It’s a good reminder but not a new revelation.

So if you’re somehow seeing this movie later than even me, I say dial down the expectations. I understand why this made everybody smile, but not why it made them do backflips. One guess is that many of them didn’t know about Banksy, so the shots of his art and little stories about the funny things he’s done were brand new to them, and obviously that’s gonna make it more exciting than to somebody that’s already enjoyed that stuff before.

But also there’s this idea that the movie is some kind of puzzle, that there are tricks and clues and things to figure out. Without really knowing the specifics I’ve been hearing all year about this movie being a hoax or having some kind of prankish aspect to it. And because of the things Banksy has done before that was easy to believe. But now that I’ve seen the movie and talked to some people about it I’m convinced that it’s a complete misunderstanding.

Part of it has to do with Banksy’s anonymity. He shows up with his face hidden so for some reason some people’s reflex is to think it’s some kind of guessing game, that you gotta figure out his identity. I first was confused by this when I read Harry’s review, where he said in the headline that Banksy was actually Guy Ritchie, and then in the review said:

“I’m kidding. I know GUY isn’t BANKSY – as I just got off the phone with a friend that has met BANKSY and while he told me Guy isn’t BANKSY he said that was a very smart guess… So I suppose it could be MATTHEW VAUGHN. Or anybody. That’s part of the fun of this Artist. The mystery.”

But I don’t think we should call in Poirot just yet. There isn’t much of a mystery. I feel that I can confidently state that Banksy is not some celebrity’s secret side project.

One time I was waiting for a bus in a quiet neighborhood after midnight. Usually you don’t see other people around there at night unless it’s some drunk that comes up and starts telling you his life story. This night I heard somebody behind me, I turned around and saw a tall young guy in a hoodie with a green bandana pulled up to his eyes. For a second I thought “oh shit, a fuckin bandit? This guy is gonna try to mug me?” But after we stared each other down he stepped into the alley and examined the tags on the wall.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Banksy, but like Banksy the guy works in the medium of vandalism. In his profession it’s not unusual or quirky to wear a mask, it’s just common sense. If you watch graffiti documentaries (including EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, incidentally) you’ll see that many of them wear bandanas or have their faces blurred, and almost none of them use their real names. One exception is Fairey, and in whatever that other movie I saw was you’ll see why that’s a mistake, because he gets arrested all the time even when not caught in the act. He’ll go to a town for a show and they’ll be waiting for him.

I don’t have the same problem, I really am a weirdo for being so reclusive, but I’ve had similar accusations over the years. People used to always say there was more than one person writing as Vern, which is what one of my buddies said about Banksy after watching this movie. And I remember when I wrote a really negative review of JAY AND SILENT BOB’S STRIKE BACK on The Ain’t It Cool News some guy in the talkbacks was convinced that I was Kevin Smith and he was making fun of other talkbackers for not getting the joke.

It’s not true, there’s no guessing game to play, like with Jack the Ripper. I’m just some dude, and I’m pretty sure the same is true of Banksy. It’s not a joke, he has a recorded history as a graffiti artist turned stenciler turned everything else. I never heard of Mr. Brainwash before, but the movie shows footage of him with well known street artists across many years, plenty of people vouch for his art really existing in L.A. well before the movie, the L.A. Weekly cover story shown in the movie really exists, and he’s still doing shows.

The movie seems real to me, and I so does this interview about it with Banksy and this one with his collaborators.

I take it at face value. There’s no joke to figure out here, fellas. It’s just a documentary. If it’s a mockumentary then it’s not a good one, because it’s only interesting if it’s real. The point is that the guy making the movie really did become a high selling hipster (I’m I using that correctly, kids?) artist. It’s meaningless if it’s a put on. And Banksy, experienced prankster that he is, would’ve come up with something way crazier and funnier if the movie was based around some kind of set up. What’s interesting about it is this strange character and the unlikely things that happen to him in real life. If it’s life it’s interesting, if it’s satire it’s fuckin weak.

So I feel exactly opposite of this review. If it’s a real documentary, which it is, then it’s pretty good. If it’s a mockumentary, which it’s not, then it’s kinda dumb.

But I feel kinda bad even bringing all that up because if there’s anything worth discussing about the movie it’s not this stupid argument based on a weird misconception and a bunch of people trying too hard to be in-the-know. So I want to end on a completely unrelated note. What should it be? Uh, how ’bout… it was cool to see Banksy actually cutting out his stencils. I mean, it’s just a dude with some paper and an exacto knife, cutting out shapes. I guess it figures that’s what it would be, huh?

Here’s one of my favorite Banksys:


I only wish there was a picture of that one being removed.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 at 3:53 am and is filed under Documentary, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

64 Responses to “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

  1. I am Banksy.

  2. I am Batman

  3. anyway I’m with Vern, the whole Disneyland thing is stupid, other than that Banksy is pretty cool I guess

    and now is as good time as any I guess to ask, why do you keep yourself so mysterious Vern? for years I’ve wondered what you look like, I just always pictured you as a semi-muscular guy with a beard and long hair, am I close?

    or maybe you’re like a movie critic super hero? by day you’re just a dorky guy with glasses, by night you put on a mask and costume and review movies for the good of mankind?

  4. Speaking of Disneyland, Vern, are you ever going to finish that story about the time you got captured by the Disney gestapo? That was some pretty good shit.

  5. I am Zorro!

  6. Maybe it was the hype that killed it, but I thought this was pleasant and kinda forgettable, but that’s about it. (I’m not a big fan of street art, so I’m not exactly the right demographic I guess) After it was over, I really had no desire to spend any extra brain power dissecting if it was real or fake or who Banksy is or anything like that. The one thing I really did like was that it sets up a sort of reverse-Amadeus, where the one artist who just doesn’t have “it” ends up being the one who makes it big. Btw, I know I don’t really have an eye for art, but I actually didn’t think Mr. Brainwash’s stuff was all that horrible. The movie seems to make fun of the hipsters praising him at his gallery opening, but I’ve seen people praise and make a big deal out of much, much worse.

  7. I thought Vern was an African-American male with dreads and a belly.

    As far as Disneyland deaths, the majority were because the people were being stupid. I have sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives but I have no sympathy for being stupid. http://www.snopes.com/disney/parks/deaths.asp

  8. I am Asparagus!

    BTW, I haven’t seen that movie yet, so you were NOT the last one. Maybe the last one in your country or even continent, but not the last one in the world!

  9. I’m with neal2zod. I don’t see why we’re supposed think Mr. Brainwash’s art is so bad. If Banksy had made the exact same Elvis with machine gun I doubt anyone would suggest it sucked. Is it just because it’s derivative? As I recall there is a line in the movie that basically says it was okay for Andy Warhol to be derivative but Mr. Brainwash shouldn’t. I don’t buy it. Plus I don’t really see why being derivative is that bad a thing. Especially when you are coming up with TV robots.

  10. I thought Batman was Banksy. And that being Mr Brainwash was what Joaquin Phoenix was really doing while he was preteding to be doing I’M STILL HERE.

  11. Yeah this was one was good and well-made and certainly watchable, but it was no masterpiece of documentary film-making. Certainly no King of Kong, Man on Wire, No End In Sight or The Cove.

    By the end of the film I really dis-liked the Frenchman Mr. Brainwash or whatever. He took these guys’ passion for street art and turned it into something that was blatantly only about money money money. Is there a better metaphor for artistic laziness than slapping colors on mass produced prints while riding beside them on a skateboard? Well good for him I guess I’m sure he makes more on any one of his knock-off free from any kind of originality “paintings” than I do in a year.

  12. The Mr. Brainwash art is terrible because it’s all hollow variations on the same theme: a famous image with a slight, ironic twist. The first time the film shows you one of his pieces, it doesn’t seem so bad. But by the time you’re shown 400 variations of the same idea, it become pretty clear that Guetta doesn’t have a lot of talent. He’s a one-trick pony whose one trick isn’t even particularly clever, unique or thought-provoking.

    And Banksy’s point about comparing Mr Brainwash to Andy Warhol was that Warhol’s work was iconic and done with a level of skill and thoughtfulness, whereas Guetta’s pieces are silly and tossed off. I don’t think he was just criticizing Guetta for being derivative. Rather, he was saying that Warhol’s work drew on famous images to expose their meaninglessness, whereas Guetta’s work was just meaningless.

  13. “It’s not true, there’s no guessing game to play, like with Jack the Ripper. I’m just some dude.”

    Oh please, I’m onto you Vern, or should I call you BRUCE. And BTW, I am a woman!

    This one flew completely under my radar, and reading the review I can see why. I’m going to try and make time to see the Nick Cage from Hell thing that’s on at the moment, so hopefully I’ll have something interesting to say about that.

  14. HIJACK – Quickly, Stallone won’t be directing The Expendables II. How can we convince him he needs John Hyams?

  15. I really liked this film, but I have to admit that I knew nothing about Banksy heading into it, so part of what I really enjoyed about the film was discovering this amazing artist and character. I also grew up going to a school for the arts, and enjoyed the way the movie explores ideas about art.

  16. Dan, to your point it also seemed that Mr. Brainwash more manufactured art then made art. Most of the pieces in his show he never even touched. At most he was barking instructions during their creation.

  17. Charles,

    To be fair, plenty of established, talented artists I’m sure employ various assistants, craftsmen, graphic designers, etc., to help construct their pieces. But, yeah. Guetta seemed to lack any concrete artistic skills. And his ideas, his vision, just weren’t very good either. It’s annoying sometimes when people see a work of art they don’t like or don’t understand and say something like “I could do that, what’s the big deal?” but I am convinced that any of us is capable of doing what Guetta did (artistically speaking). The average high schooler can do what Guetta did.

  18. I actually enjoyed, respected, & “got” this movie through & through, but it was ultimately really frustrating, no matter how clever or meta or colorful or poignant or even mindblowing the thing was, because it was bloody frustrating watching Los Angelinos support this MBW jackass and give him so much money.

    This is the kind of street art that appeals to me:

    Finally, for an equally mindblowing & more straightforward art expose-documentary type movie, check out Peter Greenaway’s J’ACCUSE. It’s not for everyone. Not to sound condescending, sorry, but it will feel like homework or an extended History Channel special to some of you, while we academic art nerd types with some background in the Dutch masters (painting masters, not the bluntrolling material, though the 2 go together nicely) are more likely to be wholly entertained by Greenaway’s presentation.

    Banksy, out.

  19. Banksy is not a single person, it is a collective. Otherwise it would be impossible to do some of his pieces, especially ones like the one he did on two sides of the wall in Israel. You’d have to pay off too many people and employ the services of too many spotters to not get caught. If Banksy was just one guy, there would be a photo of him in a British tabloid by now. A clear photo of him. It would be worth too much money, and respect be damned, a lot of those street artists are real hungry.

    Shepard Fairley is part of Banksy, Theirry Guetta is part of Banksy, the dude being interviewed in the hoodie? I think he might actually be a hired actor (as was the guy in the mockumentary “Dinner with Banksy.”)

  20. Dan, Mr. Brainwash had so much exposure to skilled artists that he understood how to conceptually and physically create art that aped the styles of the artists he followed, but it lacked soul. The manufactured assembly line nature of the art of MBW’s show reminded me of Wallmart. It was street art conceived with masconsumption, profits, and fame in mind. Then the spectacle of the show it self reminded me of Disney Land, and not in an intentional or cleverly ironic way. In was like Disney Land in a tacky, gaudy, and cash grabbing way.

  21. Hunter, watching the film I though Banksy was a number of people as well, at the very least he might be like Tony Clifton were a couple people acted as him at different times. However, I have done a lot of reading on Banksy since this film and I am not so sure anymore. I think he could be just one guy, but he could just as easily be a number of guys.

  22. Knox Harrington

    March 9th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    “Back when Warhol was being derivative, being derivative wasn’t derivative, but these days being derivative is really fucking derivative”.

    Also, “Banksy isn’t the artist. Banksy is the art”.

    This is why I rather watch movies and read books.

  23. Banksy is actually Andy Warhol who was actually Marcel Duchamp who was actually Vincent Van Gogh who was actually Leonardo DaVinci who was actually Michelangelo who was actually The Highlander.

    Pollock blew this wide open if you arrange his paintings right, and that is why he was silenced.

  24. Banksy is Spartacus?

  25. You won’t get a photo of that piece being removed (the one of the cleaner steam-cleaning the cave art). That was done at a subway under Waterloo station where the council allowed graffiti artists to do whatever they want, so it lasted about a week before being covered in other people’s tags.

  26. On a related note, I was that comic-book guy asshole back in ’99 who ran around showing how smart I was by poo-pooing The Matrix because I could name a bunch of obscure stuff it borrowed from. Yeah, i was dorkily offended because it was a Hollywood-ized “soulless” Hong Kong approximation, and how it had famous actors who weren’t martial artists first, etc. etc.. Now I look back on it like, “man I was a snarky prick” and I should have let people just enjoy what they were enjoying. I guess that’s why I’m not really that offended by the Mr. Brainwash art in the movie. It looks alright to me, but I know I’m not the guy you should be asking. Just like you shouldn’t play two reggae songs and ask me which I like better. It’s not like I’m going to ever buy a Mr. Brainwash piece or a Banksy piece so I guess I never really formed much of an opinion on it.

  27. Wait that sounded bad- I’m certainly not implying that anyone who thinks Mr. Brainwash’s stuff was terrible is being a know-it-all prick. In fact I actually kind of envy your ability to discern the differences between two things that basically look the same to me.

  28. I’m kind of bummed you guys didn’t love this movie, cause I did. I didn’t read anything about it before watching it though.
    First off, I thought that it was edited and paced really well, there’s a lot of story for a movie that clocks in at under ninety minutes, and it was all interesting to me. I’d read about Banksy before, but none of the other guys, and was impressed by the footage of them at work.
    The discussion about the value of Mr. Brainwash’s art (?) is what makes the movie brilliant to me. On the one hand, we want to hate it because it’s sort of blatantly presented as pandering to what people perceive as street art in order to make a buck. But that becomes a comment on how those of us who think we can legitimately evaluate art by comparing works to a standard are actually evaluating largely by context. And the film plays this up to such an extent that it makes me think that Banksy wanted to emphasize it, which in a way makes Mr. Brainwash seem like his performance piece. A buddy of mine who went to USC art school pointed out to me that Mr. Brainwash’s show would have cost a shitload of money, that in order to rent a warehouse in LA and frame that many pieces made it hard for him to believe that it was totally financed by Mr. Brainwash. But Mr. Brainwash claims to have paid for it himself: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-oscar-exit-20110222,0,4684254,full.story
    In the LA Times story, he does admit that Banksy set the date for the show, and sent a “fixer” to help get things ready in time. And I’ve got to say, the little rollerskate/crutch thing Mr. Brainwash is wearing the day of the show seems suspisciously comical.
    But really, to whatever extent the events in the film may have been manipulated (as they are in all documentaries, I guess) in a way it doesn’t matter because Mr. Brainwash now has been legitimized as an artist in the same way as Bansky and others are: public acceptance. But we don’t want that to be true because we want there to be more to defining good art than that. So watching the film makes us think about how to define those values. Or else we give up and assume that everyone is getting something about the quality of Mr. Brainwash’s art that we don’t. Like maybe the whole thing is intended to expose the weaknesses of how an audience responds to art, or maybe it wasn’t intentional but just a side effect of the whole story. But then there’s weird things like this:
    (A robot made of TVs by Nam June Paik, who’s known for TV sculptures) that make me think that there’s more being controlled deliberately than meets the eye. So while I don’t think the entire thing was a setup, I think it doesn’t really matter in that it evokes the same emotions and questions either way, which is brilliant.

  29. Well said Jek. Whether the film is real or fictional it does not change the questions it poses or the ideas it explores.

  30. Agreed, Jek and other big fans of this movie. It is brilliant/fun/clever/provocative, but its success works against it in the end, for me, b/c I was so disgusted by the MBW reception. The film depicts this fraudulent rise to prominence & wealth so well that it irks me almost as much as the depiction of the banking executive assholes in INSIDE JOB. I can watch a great football game, with diving catches and hot cheerleaders and a dramatic sportscast audio, that goes to the last minute of overtime, but I’m still gonna be pissed off if the Dallas fucking Cowboys win in the end.

    I got a question, a modern philosophical prompt, if you will.  What’s up with mainstreamers encouraging & allowing so-called underground art?  Graffiti and stuff that’s supposed to be a subversive, underground mark of badassery and fuckyouism has about reached the point where it’s perfectly acceptable now.  

    It’s not as fun or meaningful for me when I see some tag or amateur artistic statement in a public forum and passersby just politely nod and take pictures.  Yeah, it’s cool to be accepting of a bohemian spirit and the visuals that go with it, nothing wrong with that, but everything seems in danger of losing that punk rock edge.  Dudes gotta step it up again and make things that piss off the establishment, or Establishment.  I ain’t satisfied unless I feel some sense of danger, a whiff of a cadre of uniforms & nightsticks around the corner ready to scare off the whippersnappers & their spraypaint cans.  

    Like, lately I’ve seen kids out skateboarding and their parents were there guiding them, giving pointers on technique and shit.  That’s not what skateboarding is about, man!  Skaters are suppose to be like “Fuck you mom & dad, I’ma go skate where the cops might chase me, with no helmet or pads, and hang around guys with fake IDs to buy cigarettes, cuz it’s fun and your lifestyle doesn’t make sense to me.”  That’s the whole origin & point of the culture, no?  

    Anyway, I know my complaints are poorly defined.  They aren’t universal either, and some of the problems I describe are actually altogether signs of a healthy, progressive society, but surely other Outlaw folk have noticed and been perturbed by the neutering of the underground culture.  I’d blame hipsters somehow, but I still don’t know what they are.  

  31. MBA owns a hip shop on rodeo drive. A succesful one. Dude can definitely afford the space for the show.

  32. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 9th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Even in the tiny back water town I live in, kids have put up their stencil template spray paintings. They are all obviously hanging on the coat tails of Banksy. I don’t mind it myself. I’d rather know the little douche bags have got off their backsides and tried to create something.

  33. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 9th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    But what I don’t get about the wanna be ninja artists is why they are so well behaved in that they don’t paint on coffee shops/banks/anything that they don’t like. Or is it that they only want to paint on old buildings to brighten the place up?

    I guess I’m with Mr Mouth. Kiddies need to step up and do some shit.

  34. Mouth, if something is popular enough corporations will find a way to monetize it or use it help sell their brand or products. My elementary aged nephews get taken to the skate park by their mother, and play songs like “Holiday In Cambodia”, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” on Rock Band. Also the X-Games are big business, and skate culture seems to be very mainstream at this point.

  35. I always think its kind of ridiculous to claim that some art is inherently “good” or “bad” as if there was some kind of scientific test for it. The value is in what you’re able to take away from it. Great art is likely to be rich enough to have lots of things inherent in it that you can take away and think about, but you can sometimes get just as much value from “bad” art if you think about it and what it means. The whole idea that art has a dollar value that is at all meaningful or indicative of anything other than what rich people choose to do with their money is patently absurd. The Brainwash stuff is pretty repetative of a kind of obvious idea, but in this post-post-meta world, its entirely possible that that’s the whole point (its kind of what is suggested by that conspiracy article Vern linked to). If it makes us think about what value art has and the institutions through which we arbitrarily create value, doesn’t that actually make it valuable in itself?

  36. Fuck, Porkins said exactly what I was thinking, except better and faster.

  37. This film reminded me of a documentary I saw in college (that I can not remember the name of) about a guy who made incredibly detailed prints of American dollar bills that are art, but he then trades them at the face value of the bills for goods or services as part of the completion of his artistic pieces. Eventually the American government sized much of his work and threatened to charge him as a counterfeiter. It was very interesting and explored a number of the same ideas about art and the value of art as EXIT did.

  38. Mr Subtlety,

    I definitely can dig your points, but let me offer two thoughts:

    1) Obviously there is not an objective standard for good and bad, and I completely agree that “bad” art can have something to offer, can spurn discussion, etc. However, I think it’s still fine for an individual to have standards to which they hold old (be they standards of craft, aesthetics, conception, and so on). I wasn’t trying to say that the MBW stuff was objectively terrible, just why to my eyes it was terrible. No one was arguing that Mr Brainwash’s work should be banned or something to that effect, we’re including him in the conversation. And it’s okay for us to pass judgment. You’ve shared your evaluation on films here many times, decreeing whether or not you liked them. I don’t see how that’s different than calling something bad art.

    2) I don’t think Guetta’s work really raises those interesting questions. I think Banky’s film and the way he frames Guetta’s works is what raises the questions about the value of art.

  39. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 9th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    If it is going to end up as the artwork/soundtrack to the fucking Pepsi Max twats X Games then I wouldn’t bother in the first place. Don’t want to sound like a wanna be Bill Hicks, just sayin’.

  40. Good points Dan. I strongly agree with your second point. Guetta wanted to be a celebrity more then he was concernd about making a social statement. MBW is a brand and a marketing campaign. In the film the success of his show seemed to be more about marketing then actual art. Maybe the dude is a genius and his art is some sort of brilliant commentary on pop iconography and the power of art in marketing and it’s impact on consumerism, but I can only judge the dude by what I saw in the film.

  41. Dan — You’re correct, of course (sorry if that seemed like a criticism of you specifically, it was meant as a general rumination) that part of our engagement with art depends on our ability to evaluate it and what it means to us. We create the value, but part of that creation process is asking ourselves what we value and how much we value it. So absolutely, it makes sense to evaluate art and to enagage with others by sharing our interpretation. It seems like with this kind art, though (perhaps becuase of the insulated world it seems to increasingly exist in, or perhaps because of the huge dollar values it commands) people struggle more to define what art is and what kind of objective, instrinstic value it has in a way they don’t (as much) for other kinds of artistic media (music, film, googly-eye shells, etc). When they look at am image, folks seem to leap to deciding if its valuable “art” or not, rather than simply reacting to it and finding value in that reaction.

    It all sort of dovetails into a discussion of “what is art” — which is not a question I find particularly relavent beyond discussing using artistic tools as a means for communication. Other than the technical aspect, its all about meaning — and I tend to assign much more responsibility to the viewer than to the artist as far as meaning goes. Particularly when it comes to assigning inherent value based on meaning. I mean, that’s the whole reason Brainwash’s art is presumably legitimately valuable to someone.

  42. “Other than the technical aspect, its all about meaning — and I tend to assign much more responsibility to the viewer than to the artist as far as meaning goes. Particularly when it comes to assigning inherent value based on meaning.”

    I think that’s well put. I hope I didn’t make it sound like, just because the MBW stuff struck me as terrible, that others couldn’t enjoy or derive meaning from it. I’m a firm believer that no opinion of a work of art is wrong or bullshit or whatever (so long as examples from the “text” support the opinion), and I’m willing to bet that someone here could make an eloquent defense of Guetta’s art. The only “wrong” opinions in art are those based on false information, so when I called the art “meaningless,” I meant meaningless to me. It could totally have meaning to others.

    And of course the other thing that occurred to me that I hadn’t mentioned yet is that my only familiarity with Guetta’s work is through this film, so all I’ve ever seen of it is what Banksy wanted me to see. So maybe it’s a little unfair of me to judge to harshly, when all I’ve seen of the man’s work is what someone who already hated his work showed me.

    Then again, I’ve tried looking up MBW images online and they all seem pretty terrible, too.

  43. Banksy–>Ian Banks–>Ian M Banks

  44. From Jed Perl, art critic at The New Republic and, despite his willingness to use the term “postmodern” so freely, a good writer:

    ^*Eclecticism, if seriously maintained, is the idea that a variety of creative expressions, many inherently or at least apparently irreconcilable, can be valued simultaneously. Back in 1988, after some days going to the galleries, I wrote that “the entire history of art is now an Arabian bazaar …and our only defense against the dishonest and the second-rate is our freedom to choose.” This still strikes me as true. And yet as I turn these words over in my mind today, I am bothered by the analogy to the bazaar, with its suggestion that we are all shoppers. The postmodern mentality had turned the gallerygoer’s essential experience, which had once involved judging, into something closer to the take-it-or-leave-it experience of shopping, and I was responding to that mentality when I wrote nearly a quarter of a century ago. The real question, then as now, is how we choose. Our choices, although they can be idiosyncratic, must be fueled by pressures and preoccupations that have nothing in common with the choices we make when we decide whether to buy the black socks or the patterned socks—or end up buying both. Too often now, there seems to be something a little weightless about the interest in Jess or Hammersley or Remenick or Thek. To admire an artist for his own sake, although certainly a compliment, can also be a way of suggesting that he has no place in the larger scheme of things. When it comes to the development of a rigorous eclecticism, our freedom to choose is not so much a choice as it is a necessity.^*

    This works for me as a condemnation of hipster consumerism/consumerist hipsterism and then some. It devastates & saddens me that most of us, due to years of conditioning in our capitalistic societies and an inevitable proximity to any number of associated factors (eBay, Amazon, auctioneer stereotypes, your cable bill, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP), are incapable of seeing something as art. Within milliseconds, we compute a monetary value. Or we wonder whether it is deserving of a better or a worse presentation space. Or we drift from the actual piece while it plays and think more about what Vern will say when he reviews it.

    Who was that philosopher who detailed the postindustrial revolution shift in mentality, that people no longer look at a mountain & see a mountain? Rather, he said, they see a calculation of ore deposits and an estimation of the difficulty of passage over or through it. Nothing has intrinsic value any longer at the most fundamental level because we all assign value based on usefulness or trade worth, which is of course relative. You might never fully enjoy the gallery because part of your mind will constantly be reminding you that you need to force the trip to be worthwhile. You think of the ticket price or the supposedly more productive stuff you could be doing with your time. You might never achieve catharsis because you will never allow yourself to embrace or receive an absolute truth because you will relativize any truth.

    As Wordsworth said, “the world is too much with us.”

    Well, that’s my major concern. Beyond that, Dan, Mr. S, etc., get whatever meaning you want out of whatever you experience. Until we go back & forth raising competing bid posts at Sotheby’s, your tastes won’t much affect me and it won’t bother me if you call my favorites meaningless or I judge your favorites as empty plagiarisms.

  45. If you dig Banksy you might wanna check out the documentary about Ron English. He’s a longtime billboard terrorist outsider artist type dude. I believe it is available on Netflix instant watch even.

  46. I’m going to go ahead and point to this entire discussion as evidence that the film works. For me, then entire purpose of Exit Through the Gift Shop was to force the viewer to slow down and really look and think about art. Certain attendance to art have gotten in the way of actually seeing artwork as a statement. Instead, art as monetary value or art as a projection of one’s identity have clouded the meaning of certain works of art. Exit Through the Gifts Shop asks us to ignore price tags and instead look at the art itself. I think the biggest indictment of Mr. Brainwash came when those who came to his premier couldn’t articulate what they actually liked about his artwork. For them it was all about discovering someone first so that they could flaunt it later, or to invest in something that might increase in value.

  47. I need to watch this. I have not yet but plan to soon. I love that this discussion inherently went into the direction of art criticism and also about what art criticism is, thus perfectly encompassing what the documentary was about.

  48. Has anyone discussed the title, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP? It refers literally to the escape strategy during the Disney World thing, right? But then it’s the title of the movie for a better reason than that.

    Clever stuff, even if you take the seemingly obvious reading that “gift shop” represents the cheapened, miniaturized, or mass produced version of art through which, I guess, Mr. BrainWash “exits” on his way through the art & art business world.

    Or it could be a command. “You there, shithead with no concept of originality, exit through the gift shop and don’t come back!” Most of this seems self-evident, but I wasn’t sure if someone had a more interesting take on the title. To me, it says a lot in just 5 words.

  49. Imagine you are sick, you have to take leave from work.

    One day a co-worker calls you out of genuine concern. ”Are you doing okay? Do you need help with anything?”

    Such a call would probably mean a lot to you, even if these was nothing they could do.

    Now imagine you get a call from a co-worker, but this time it is a co-worker whom you know is required by company policy to call you and ask those same questions by rote.

    Suddenly those questions would change in tone, they might even sound like veiled harassment or potential gathering of evidence in a claim against you and your ”supposed” illness. At the very least you would take little comfort because they were born out of company policy, not concern.

    Street artists put themselves in great physical and legal danger in order to present their images to the general public, despite having little chance at any kind of positive recognition or reward.

    Celebrity artists such as Mr. Brainwash produce works for consumption by the wealthy art world, with the obvious goals of personal wealth and fame.

    Even if both were to produce identical images, whom do you feel has more concern for you and the world we live in at large?

  50. I don’t think they exit through the gift shop in the Disneyland scene, but yes, it’s a technique used at theme parks and museums and I think it shows you Banksy’s opinion of the Mr. Brainwash show at the end.

    For anybody who’s interested in the movie I really recommend reading those two interviews I linked to. They talk about alot of interesting things you wouldn’t necessarily get out of the movie, for example Banksy talks about how much he really likes Thierry and thinks he’s funny but that other street artists are pissed because the movie brings attention to his art.

  51. Dan – If you consider Mr. Brainwash a bad artist partly because he is a one-trick pony what do you think about Shepard Fairey’s stuff? Or other artists that do the same thing over and over again, like Pollock or whoever?

  52. I just wanted to throw in something to what Mouth said about underground shit becoming main stream, and I don’t know if it’s the big evil corporations spotting something to make a buck on, that probably’s got something to do with it, but isn’t the original skaters and old schoolers the parents of this new uncool, redoing genreation? I mean, it’s no wonder that the most subversive thing the younglings of today has come up with is cats and bacon on the internet, they were brought up in the most ironic, I don’t know if anything means anything environment ever.

    I don’t know, mybe this made more sense in my head than written down.

  53. Mouth:
    I thought the title was meant to associate this particular story with other examples of when something that starts out punk and revolutionary becomes static and monetized. I didn’t think about Disneyland specifically, but just places in general that used to be about the experience only and now have a bottom line. Even things like going to the zoo; the one near me didn’t used to have rows of cuddly neon giraffes and plastic beetles made in Malaysia before you got to the parking lot. And that reminds of Mr. Brainwash himself in that he at first is super excited just to be around these guys as they’re clandestinely making stuff where anyone walking past can get something out of it without a price tag, and then he eventually he’s putting his own picture over one of Shepard’s as an advertisement for his show.

  54. I read “Exit Through the Gift Shop” as a statement on the gradual merging of art and consumerism. Even for those not in it to make a buck (nonprofit museums, for instance, like my beloved Smithsonian) are unable to divest themselves from the way we imagine art as a commodity. We exit through the gift shop because the gift shop is every bit as permanently part of the process of consuming art as the gallery itself. Sometimes, they’re the same room.

    BTW Mouth, really loved your piece above. Very eloquently put.

  55. Mr. Subtlety, I try to only put my best foot forward here because you (and so many others here) are so consistently excellent in your posts. Discussions related to the meaning of art bring out the old Honors Western Civilization student in me, recalling the me who spent 2 semesters doing nothing but partying, sparking blunts, reading, and articulating revelation after catharsis after revelation.

    This has been mentioned a few times before, but. . . how did the talkbacks here come to represent pretty much the pinnacle of internet commenter output? I’ve been to lots of other places. Other than Mubi, which favors technical experts & the kind of cinema erudition that is offputting to more casual would-be commenters, nowhere else displays such a consistently high percentage of quality posts in the lowly comments section. And neither Albert Pyun nor the co-writer of FACE//OFF have ever been on Mubi, so fuck Mubi. TalkingPointsMemo comes close in terms of overall intelligence of the commentariat, but that’s all political stuff, and they do suffer a regular, visible dose of stupidity injections from a handful of imbeciles. Why is there never (except that Paul2 guy that 1 time) an outburst of retardedness here (except when Paul1 says he doesn’t like Tony Jaa’s movies)?

    Anyway, disregard this. I’d hate to jinx a good thing.

  56. Banksy’s banned Simpsons opening is one of the most brilliantly dreary things I’ve ever seen in my life.

  57. Mouth- I’ve enjoyed reading Vern’s reviews on AICN for years, but ever since Vern got the new sight with comments, I mostly just lurk now because I realized 1. on a bad day I’m most likely a carrier for the talkback retardation gene, and 2. even on a good day, I’m not half as knowledgeable about movies or as gifted with words as the regular commentators around here. You fuckers come up with some brilliant shit sometimes.

    It’s kinda like seeing an impromptu street music jam with really talented musicians, I’d much rather just appreciate listening to other people play good music than try to join in with a tambourine or a kazoo. And this was another good read. So, thumbs up from the lurker’s gallery.

    And I did just want to point out that the best way to read your post up above re: “kids need to fuck shit up” is in the voice of Michael Wincott from The Crow.

  58. Broddie – what was “banned” about his Simpsons opening? It aired on TV and passed around on the internet and started an annoying debate about whether the ideas in it counted as subversive since they were used to promote a television show. Did something happen after that?

    ebonic plague – Don’t be shy. You always add to an intelligent discussion, and I remember you as one of the really smart regulars in the old Ain’t It Cool talkback days.

  59. Thanks, Vern- I won’t hesitate to chime in next time I have 2 cents to throw, most of my problem is that I just have to catch up on my movie-watching to have much of anything to contribute. My netflix queue is on a Shangri-La schedule lately.

  60. Had a great conversation with one of my buddies about Exit Throught The Gift Shop, he thought it was rubbish, I really enjoyed it, when I started asking about specific bits he couldn’t remember any of them, decided the film I described sounded really interesting and then admitted that he may have been asleep for most of it.

    Anyway, this chat made me want top re-read Vern’s review, then I got on a Banksy trip and found this, which I completely missed from last Saturday:


  61. Excellent site. Lots of useful info here. I’m sending it to
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