On Monday night, a friend who works in marketing for WIRED magazine invited me to a special screening of Bansky’s new documentary at the Embarcadero Center. The film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, documents the rise of street art, going from the Gaza wall to the Guggenheim and ultimately transforming the way we visualize pop icons (i.e., Shepard’s Obama). The screening was a treat for the magazine’s staff and friends, apparently Banksy’s a big fan of WIRED (and seriously, who isn’t?)
Exit was edited together from several years worth of footage taken by a camera-friendly, “crazy French guy,” who through a rare and interesting combination of fate-like circumstance and pure stupidity gets entangled in the street art scene just as it’s beginning to bubble. He befriends Fairey and Banksy, bullshits his way into becoming an “artist” himself by the name of Mr. Brainwash, puts on a phony exhibition, fools the entire city of Los Angeles into thinking he’s for real and ends up designing this album cover.
Although director Banksy acts mostly as a biased narrator, the spotlight is definitely on him and the creation of his fleeting, thought-inspiring, public works. The footage of him setting up a controversial piece at Disneyland (almost getting caught by the Mickey Mouse Patrol), or even of Fairey at Kinko’s for that matter, is priceless.
Hyping contemporary artists as sell-outs is a dangerous proposition however. Ever since Warhol (no, he really was the first) the boundaries that differentiate “art” and “product” have been re-imagined into a tiny little tomato soup can called “pop art.” But Exit re-charcoals and redefines the lines a little bit.
Banksy is just as provoked as we are with the hype machine of art that helped launch his career before watering down to producing Mr. Brainwash’s. Commentary is not necessary to understand that sometimes a piece, held together conceptually with loose strings and lazy thinking and built by a factory of cheap labor, is not art (just don’t ask people in LA) but probably just shit – or even worse: a gimmick or a hoax.
Another art documentary, The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal tackles similar subjects in a more experimental, tongue-in-cheek sort of way.
After exiting (not through a gift shop, but through an entire shopping complex), I felt compelled to justify owning an OBEY hoodie by stating I had gotten it, “pre-Obama.”