Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy, Oscilloscope Laboratories Studio, 2010, 87 minutes.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary about street artists. For those unfamiliar with the form, street art is public art in which the artist uses public places as his or her canvas. More serious than graffiti, street art can be painted or sculpted and usually contains a social or political commentary. Because these artists work on city property, most do their work at night and protect their identity to avoid prosecution.
Thierry Guetta becomes obsessed with street art after he discovers his cousin is Invader, a famous street artist working in Paris. He starts to roam the city at night in order to document Invader and other artists as they work. Through his connections, he ultimately meets and befriends probably the most famous street artist working today: Banksy. Banksy’s work can be seen everywhere from his native London, to Los Angeles, to Palestinian West Bank. The two men become co-workers and friends as Guetta helps Banksy prepare for a rare art show in Los Angeles. The more time the men spend together, the more Banksy suspects that Guetta isn’t capable of assembling the thousands of hours of footage into a cohesive film. In response, Banksy turns the cameras on Guetta and documents his journey to becoming a street artist himself, creating art under the pseudonym “Mr. Brainwash.” Mr. Brainwash’s popularity raises questions about Guetta’s talent and the authenticity of street art as a movement.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is an amazing story of one man’s rise in the underground street art world. For those interested in street art, the film provides a rare behind the scenes glimpse of how some of the most important street artists create their work in public spaces. Because street artists produce their work on city property, they must do it quickly and most often anonymously. The artists profiled in the film obviously trusted Guetta because they reveal a lot about themselves and their artistic process.
For fans of Banksy, the film offers a rare glimpse into the man’s personality and ideas. Although his identity is never revealed (he is filmed in shadow and uses a voice manipulator to disguise his voice), he narrates much of the story and gives it its shape and focus. What begins as a documentary on street art becomes a commentary on the art world’s fickle assessment of talent. As Guetta becomes more famous, his work takes on greater importance for critics and collectors. In the end, it’s unclear if Guetta’s sales are generated because of his talent, or because of his timing and connections. The title indicates Banksy’s critique of the art world’s embrace of street art, taking something rebellious and political and marketing it for profit.
Should street art be considered art or vandalism? If it’s art, does it belong in a gallery or is it meant for the city streets where it is produced? These are some of the questions you’ll be asking yourself as you watch Banksy’s documentary on the street art movement, Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Information about the author
From the director’s Wikipedia page, we learn that Banksy “is a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti done in a distinctive stenciling technique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world.”
Is Guetta an artist? If so, what kind of artist is he?
What is the film’s commentary on the art world?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 11 and up
The film is rated R for language. There is no nudity or violence.
Why did I include this title?
Banksy is one of the most intriguing artists working today. I love how his work tackles social and political themes and makes the environment in which the art appears as important as the art itself. He represents what’s great about the street art movement and why it’s so relevant today. Guetta, on the other hand, makes me question the value of street art and whether it’s worthy of serious study. The profiles of these two men in one film raised a lot of questions for me, which I’m still talking about months after seeing the film.