20 June 2010

At the movies: Exit through the Gift Shop.

The worlds of film and art have both been sideswiped by this movie, racking up a sizable amount of controversy as to just how real the whole thing is- whether or not it is an actual document of one man’s conquering of the art world by being at the right place at the right time or simply a remarkably-researched and executed farce, manufactured by artists to deliver an acid-soaked love letter to their constituency.

Regardless, the film is a delight, stuffed to the gills with drama, pervasive humor, and a remarkable look at the processes by which artists, both real and imagined, create their work.

This is the story of Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeleno who went from selling overpriced vintage clothing to an object-struck public to becoming self-manufactured art superstar “Mr. Brainwash” in a decade, just by constantly filming everything around him and learning exactly the right lessons on how to commodify and sell art. Along the way, he extensively documented the beginnings of street art, befriending and assisting with every artist he could find on an international level.

But when he finally met elusive genius Banksy, everything in his world changed completely, and the end result is as corrosive and fascinating an autocritique of art culture as you’ll see anywhere this year.

The idea of a comprehensive street art documentary is intriguing, but this isn’t it. To start with Shepherd Fairey and not even address Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, RenĂ©, or Cost + Revs seems limited to begin with. But we’re dealing with a very specific place in contemporary art, so let’s put that aside.

Whether you see it as an inside look into the world of street art that mutates into a documentary about evolving with a voracious marketplace, a prankish tweak of the mercurial nature of the art establishment, or a Frankenstein-like cautionary tale about what can happen when one is a bit too supportive, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a breezy, brilliant film with lots of laughs and a remarkable discussion piece for anyone even remotely interested in art, both as a concept and as a business.

I'm still not sure whether the whole thing is real, and I find that my certainties become less so as time passes by.

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