Introduction



Exit Through The Gift Shop: An Analysis

There’s probably a moral in there somewhere…” –Banksy


Abstact
The growth of street art in the last several decades has heralded the emergence of a post-pop movement that has exploded in the fine art scene. This movement has spawned some of this biggest names (with recognition outside the scene) since Warhol. At the forefront of this vibrant movement is its biggest star: the enigmatic Briton, Banksy. His work has emerged as the most sought after in the street art scene, often fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars from an all-star clientele. Last year, Banksy continued his evolution from prankster to rock star artist to Academy Award-nominated filmmaker with his “documentary,” Exit Through The Gift Shop. This complicated and layered film straddles the (arbitrary lines) documentary and fiction while leveling wide-ranging criticisms of the art scene, capitalism, and Banksy himself. As complex a film as it is, the clues and evidence necessary to understand its polemics can all be found within the text (the film) itself.

Literature Review
Research for this essay had to be wide-ranging because of the nature of the subject. Exit Through The Gift Shop is a complicated piece of filmmaking about a complicated culture from a complicated figure. Its polemics touch on art, truth, politics, legitimacy, the media, etc., etc. The research attempts to touch on the multitude of angles necessary to understand the film. Analyses of the documentary style, the art scene, the politics of culture, the commodification of art, Baurdrillard’s hyperreal, and Warhol are all important to this essay.

Simulacra and Simulation is one of the most important texts to understand what Banksy is doing in Exit Through The Gift Shop. The most important idea from Simulacra and Simulation is Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreal. It is this concept of the hyperreal that anchors his criticism of post-modern, media-saturated society and is crucial to understanding what is happening in Exit Through The Gift Shop. For Baudrillard, a simulation is no longer a sign or referent to some outside “real.” He writes, “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (Baudrillard 1). These simulacra have done away with all referential objects. “The era of simulation is inaugurated by a liquidation of all referentials” (Baudrillard 2). He argues that we are in a stage of the image where, “it has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it its own pure simulacrum” (Baudrillard 6). While it was true that the image always was complicated, it is a good point to make in an era of post-photography where images may contain the same richness of information detail as a traditional photograph and have never passed through a lens. Exit Through The Gift Shop so ably exploits the idea that the image demands no real-world referent that it seems extremely unlikely Banksy (and what collaborators there were) was not aware of Baudrillard’s ideas. Baudrillard’s other important point is the importance of the “model.” He writes, “Simulation is characterized by a precession of the model” (Baudrillard 16). The model is a genre or classification that supposedly pre-identifies whatever media it is. The documentary form would be a good example of a “model.” The “model” of the documentary and the meanings it carries with it are clearly important to Exit Through the Gift Shop. It is these manipulations of the hyperreal nature of media that allow Exit to have the power that it does. Lastly, Baudrillard writes of power and structures and their obsession with their opposite and denial of themselves. He writes, “All the powers, all the institutions speak of themselves through denial” (Baurdrillard 19). This is also important for understanding Street Art’s success and Banksy’s persona and the film, itself. The book is ultimately about the simulations (photos, movies, etc.) that people encounter everyday and take for granted as “real” that have no relationship to any reality. Reflections that reflect nothing.

The book, What is Contemporary Art?, was a crucial work to orient the essay to some of the discussions occurring in contemporary art. Written by Terry Smith, the book explores notions as disparate yet crucial to the art world as museums, the market, architecture and the prevalence of the post-colonial. While important as a whole for the perspective on the scene, the chapter with the most relevance for this essay is titled, “Going Global: Selling Contemporary Art.” This is because one of Exit’s main foci is the power of capitalism within the art scene. In the last couple of decades, art has become huge business. Smith writes, “The spectacular results achieved in recent years at much-publicized auction sales and at even more-publicized art fairs have added to the celebrity of contemporary artists” (Smith 117). A good example of the money so present in the art scene is the work of Damien Hirst and his piece, “For the Love of God,” a skull encased in platinum and diamonds on sale for nearly a hundred million dollars. Certainly there has developed a, “circuitry between art and money” (Smith 119). While this may have always been true, it is perhaps more exaggerated in our late capitalist time period. The agenda-setting of the scene is, “intensely concentrated in a few centers and is carried out by a relatively small number of dealers and auction houses” (Smith 119). Banksy mentions this directly in his book and is certainly responding to the reality presented in Exit. Contemporary art has also come to dominate the market (Smith 120)—with artists like Banksy, Fairey, and Mister Brainwash. It now appears that perhaps the auction house is leading the way into institutionalizing art on an unprecedented level. Smith writes, “the auction house has joined the modern and contemporary art museum as the most important agency in transforming contemporary art into Contemporary Art” (Smith 122). Again, this is something that Exit is acutely aware of in its construction. Perhaps most damning is that this explosion of the art scene has coincided with the rich getting richer and the ever-widening income gap. This is likely not a coincidence. Smith writes, “the wealthiest 10 percent of the population have recently recovered the 50 percent of the national income that their predecessors enjoyed during the boom of the 1920s” (Smith 127). In fact, there has been more money flooding into the top end of the art market than it can stand from the nouveau riche searching for “status.” Smith writes, “this quest for status has introduced more money into the art market than it can readily absorb” (Smith 130). This has some interesting implications for Exit. Lastly, the art market is now dominated by this new breed of super-rich nouveau riche. These people are interested in contemporary art primarily because, “only a limited connoisseurship is required, Anyone can tell what is going on in a Damien Hirst” (Smith 132). This book gives an excellent overview of the contemporary discussions in the art scene, but its most trenchant chapter is an analysis of the fiscal realities of the fine art scene.

Banksy’s own book, Wall and Piece, is another important touchstone for this essay. It offers a rare, direct look into this enigmatic artist’s thoughts and ideas. While, his writing in the book is brief (as it is mostly a collection of pictures of his street art) it is all the more powerful for its brevity. His ideas, thoughts, and obsessions are all condensed into images with smatterings of text here and there. Two of his most important recurring themes occur when he tells the story of painting Che Guevera portraits over a street market to make a point. The market sold t-shirts and other merchandise with this anti-capitalist icon emblazoned upon it, so Banksy decided to paint deconstructions of Che’s image because, “People always seem to think if they dress like a revolutionary they don’t actually have to behave like one” (Banksy 47). However, some youth come and rob the market leaving Banksy to flee lest the police blame him. He ends his story thusly, “I imagined the kids were probably in Kilburn by then, lighting up a spliff and saying to each other ‘Why would someone just paint pictures of a revolutionary when you can actually behave like one instead?’” (Banksy 47). This anecdote is emblematic of Banksy’s pet obsessions. Firstly, he is strongly political artist who uses political themes throughout his work. Secondly, this story demonstrates his love of undercutting the seriousness and idealism of anyone and anything—including himself. He is all about deconstruction. One of his most dynamic and relevant blurbs for this essay is about the art scene writ large. He writes scathingly, “Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an Art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires” (Banksy 103). Even for Banksy, this is a deeply cynical, critical, and pointedly political statement. He argues that art is for the rich and determined by the rich. This is important for understanding his film, Exit Through The Gift Shop. The entire book is laden with revealing and blistering insights that are relevant for this essay.


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The collection, Theorizing Documentary was important to establish a base from which to understand the “model” that Banksy exploits in Exit. Particularly relevant is the essay, “The Truth About Non-Fiction.” It is an essay that addresses the inherent difficulties and contradictions in setting up a construct as “true.” Renov writes that, “fiction and non-fiction are enmeshed in each other” (Renov 2). In other words, there really is no divide between the two that is not merely arbitrary. This is important for understanding the rules that are exploited in Exit. It is the “codes” that make it non-fiction (socially-constructed expectations of the differences between documentary and fiction films). This parallels what Baudrillard was arguing in Simulacra and Simulation. Documentaries are constructed to be accepted as real and true just as photography was traditionally considered to be, “a fully indexical sign, one that bore the indelible imprint of the real” (Renov 4). The “reality” of a documentary has been just as creatively constructed as “fiction.” (Renov 6). He continues, “all discursive forms—documentary included—are, if not fictional, at least fictive” (Renov 7). It is these very ambiguities that allow Banksy to accomplish what he does in Exit.

Another important work for orienting this essay is Martin Irvine’s article, “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture.” His chapter gives a crucial overview and history of the street art scene and its cultural ascendance in the last couple of decades. He discusses how street artists went from political “rebels” to artists who, “have successfully negotiated positions in the two major visibility regimes—the non-art urban public space regime and the highly-encoded spaces of artworld institutions” (Irvine 2). Street artists emerged at a convenient time and, “seem made-to-order for a time when there is no acknowledged “period” identity for contemporary art” (Irvine 3). Street art then emerged as the next step after Pop Art. Irvine notes, “Street art became the next step in transformative logic of Pop” (Irvine 6). This is important to note because Banksy surely knows this and positions Exit thusly. As Irvine contends, the wall (where street artists inevitably begin) is, “a kind of deep structure in the generative grammar of visuality, part of a centuries-long cultural unconscious We can’t get over the wall” (Irvine13). This wall has deep political implications. “Advertising and commercial messaging space are made to appear as a guaranteed, normalized partition of the visible in the legal regime. Street artists intuitively contest this rationing or apportioning out of visibility by intervening a publically visible way” (Irvine 18). The wall is an inherently poltical place to put art. And in fact, Banksy (and many other street artists) has made the subversion of advertising (an inherently political act) one of his main tactics (Irvine 19). So, street art is a deeply political art form—in contrast with Pop. Irvine continues describing Street art, writing, “street art reveals internal contradictions and crises in the parallel universe of the art world” (Irvine 23). This is certainly what Banksy is trying to accomplish with Exit as well. This article is a tremendously important insight into the world that the film “captures” and is spawned out of.

The article, “Andy Warhol, or The Machine Perfect” might seem like an odd choice to be so important to this essay. It is, however, important for completely understanding Exit Through the Gift Shop. In many ways, Banksy is the heir apparent to Warhol and the street is the next step after the Pop Art movement that Warhol so embodied. Warhol was a proud capitalist. Art, for him, was inseparable from business, commerce. He even said, “I started out as a commercial artist and I want to end up as a business artist” (de Duve and Krauss 2). For him, art was in its essence a commodity (de Duve and Krauss 7). He believed in a capitalist system where, “Exchange value is the only value” (de Duve and Krauss 7). Warhol, “incarnated the American dream to nightmare pitch, and made visible its terrible death drive—the repetition of which is figured by the ceaseless return of commodities” (de Duve and Krauss 13). Warhol was the American dream in all it capitalistic glitz and glamour and vainglory. It is this Warhol and the legacy of Pop (to which Banksy and Street art is the heir) that is being dissected with Mr. Brainwash and Exit. One cannot understand the film without understanding Warhol and Pop and what they embodied.

Lastly, “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” by Frederic Jameson is an important rubric to understand what Exit is deconstructing. Jameson is an important (and deeply Marxist) thinker. His essay is basically a critique of the late capitalist treatment of art and aesthetics. A good summation of the article would be when he writes, “What has happened is that the aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production” (Jameson 3). A good portion of this essay discusses the appearance of the post-modern alongside the commodification of the aesthetic. Like Baudrillard’s hyperreal, this period allows the simulacrum to influence real life. Jameson writes, “The new spatial logic of the simulacrum can now be expected to have a momentous effect on what used to be historical time” (Jameson 10). In other words, simulacra now have as important an impact in the real world as anything “real” or “true.” This is tremendously important for understanding Exit Through the Gift Shop and Mr. Brainwash. The commodification of the aesthetic was predicted by Marx as another stage of capitalism, “a prodigious expansion of capital into hitherto uncommodified areas” (Jameson 19). Yet, the expansion of this capital is complicated. “In a well-known passage, Marx urges us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively and negatively all at once; to achieve, in other words, a type of thinking that would be capable of grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism” (Jameson 25). The penetrating presence of capitalism/commodification within the art scene is complicated and contradictory and paradoxical. It is this tension that is so ably explored in Exit. This article is yet another important perspective on the polemics so layered within Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Main Body of the Essay


Thesis Page

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a tremendously complex text that could be approached many different ways for many different reasons. Given the intrigue and speculation surrounding the film, it might be tempting to analyze the press or rumors surrounding the film to understand it. Now, obviously, pertinent research has been performed and the kerfuffle surrounding the film cannot be entirely ignored, but this essay will not delve into stories and speculation surrounding the film and the various (possible) hands in its making because not only is that hear-say and speculation, it does not impact the text. Exit Through the Gift Shop is so well-made that it carries the evidence necessary to understand its questions and polemics from within the text. Therefore, the evidence provided within the film will be used to interpret it. It is the best way to interpret such a complex text without more reliable knowledge of its creation. This is really the only way to cut the “Gordian Knot,” so to speak, surrounding the film. Ultimately, as Banksy says in the beginning, it is a film about Theirry Guetta and his evolution into the artist, Mister Brainwash. The film is intentionally vague about how much of his story was “manufactured” for the documentary and how much occurred “naturally.” (Even though those are arbitrary terms). The film, however, is more than clear about how the audience is supposed to interpret the emergence of Mister Brainwash and even how “true” his development as an artist is. This winking story of the emergence of an (awful) new artist gives Exit its scope, and there are many things that the film is criticizing within its eighty minute run-time. The film criticizes the fine art scene, the politics and commodification of art, the media and pop culture, and the ghost of Warhol and Pop. It de-centers/exposes the internal contradictions of many of these institutions without necessarily substituting anything positive for the things it is displacing. The film is a deconstruction at heart. Exit also explicitly argues there is such a thing as “bad” art--both directly and indirectly. Perhaps more interestingly, it consequently makes a case that there is a difference between good art/artists and bad art/artists. Lastly, the film is an elaborate deconstruction of the director--Banksy--himself. Mister Brainwash is in many ways a “fun-house” inversion of Banksy. All of these interweaving arguments and ideas can all be parsed out through a close analysis of the text itself.



Analysis


Street art has emerged in the last several decades out of the graffiti scene. It grew out of that movement in 1970s and 1980s into the dynamic darling of the art scene embodying, “many of the anti-institutional arguments elaborated in the artworld over the past fifty years” (Irvine 5). The movement grew out of and replaced Pop art. It is the, “next step in transformative logic Pop” (Irvine 6). However, Street is also deeply connected to hip-hop’s beginnings and politics. “To be sure, the evolution of graffiti art from street phenomenon to pop-culture artifact has as much to do with its connection to hip-hop culture as with any specific aesthetic qualities of graffiti writing itself” (Gottlieb 6). From the beginning with its roots, street has been almost always an inherently political art form. The use and legislation and legality of public art is always a political issue. Interestingly, the acceptance of Street coincided (somewhat) with the explosion of capital into the art scene around 1980. (Robertson and McDaniel 12). As Exit Through the Gift Shop demonstrates in its opening montage, Street Art is illegal and the artists are often arrested/chased by the police. The politics of this opening are not a coincidence either. The film refers to Street art as a, “hybrid form” of graffiti that uses many mediums to make its mark. For example, it uses the Internet to ensure longevity and distribute the work.

The foremost artist in the Street Art scene is the secretive Banksy, also the director of Exit. He rose from a local Bristol Street Artist to a British Street Artist to an internationally recognized star in the art scene writ large. His work brings in a lot of money. “The winning bid at a 2007 Sotheby’s auction for “an acrylic-and-spray-paint stencil on canvas” by the British graffiti writer Banksy was $200,000; that same year another of his paintings fetched a record $575,000 at a Bonham’s sale” (Gottlieb 7). He has been described as the, “fastest growing artist of all time” (Gottlieb 7). As mentioned, Street art is in many ways, the heir to Pop and Banksy to Warhol. They both are/were famous, wealthy in their time, and beloved by a scene they mock with impunity. They even deal with certain similar themes (repetition, fame, etc) within their work. Banksy’s work often de-constructs/criticizes culture and politics without (generally) spouting a particular philosophy. And now, Banksy has even dabbled in filmmaking the way Warhol kept trying.

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Banksy
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Warhol



In the last twenty years, there has been an explosion of money (and commodification) into the fine art scene. “The art scene exploded after 1980, with a marked increase in artists, dealers, collectors, publications, and exhibition spaces” (Robertson and McDaniel 12). Interestingly, in the wake of Pop (a movement tremendously comfortable with capitalism), the auction house became more and more important. Smith writes, “the auction house has joined the modern and contemporary art museum as the most important agency in transforming contemporary art into Contemporary Art—institutionalizing it” (Smith 122). This is the world that Street art becomes canonized within.

Since its inception, documentary has had a fuzzy (to non-existent) relationship with reality. The first documentary, Nanook of the North pushed the lines of the “truth” with recreations and re-enactments. (Renov 5). Of course, the truth is, documentary has always been just as much a construction as “fiction” films. Renov writes, “all discursive forms—documentary included are, if not fictional, at least fictive” (Renov 7). It is into this nebulous tradition that Exit Through the Gift Shop positions itself. Documentary is a genre that purports to be true while making polemics about the world around it. In many ways, it is similar to the essay form.

All of this leads to Banksy’s film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. It is an ostensible documentary for the first two acts about the growth and stars of the street art movement since the late 1990s. It chronicles the work of these artists through the eyes of a strange, French businessman named Thierry Guetta who films these artists out of some compulsion until he eventually befriends (Banksy’s words) the elusive Banksy. Then, in the third act after making an “attempt” at cutting this footage together himself (into something laughably incredulous) Banksy ostensibly takes the footage to use himself and encourages Thierry to “make some art” in the meantime whilst he cuts it together himself. Lastly, Thierry becomes an overnight sensation in the fine art scene with his incredibly derivative work. This is the narrative that the film argues “happened.”

Ultimately, this film is credited to Banksy. The first that appears upon viewing is the title card, “A Banksy Film.” So, it is at his feet that the film rests. His narration and “character” drive and frame the film whether or not Mister Brainwash is a construct of his. It is his voice that is key to understanding the film.

Much of the discussion surrounding the film encompasses the degree to which it is “true” or “real.” Leaving aside the baggage of such terms and the construction of the idea of anything being “real” that has been shaped to the extent that any film is, the levels of construction must be addressed before a further analysis can be entirely productive. The review in the New York Times is titled, “Riddle? Yes. Enigma? Sure. Documentary?” There have been many, many differing reports and perspectives on the film from numerous outlets. The press surrounding it and the players involved complicate the task to almost Sisyphean proportions. The best way to cut through the knot (at least for now) is to examine the film itself and the evidence presented within it. The text itself is more than suggestive enough for solid conclusions. One of the most impressive aspects of the piece is that many of the arguments/criticisms/deconstructions are still cutting (though less so) whether or not Mister Brainwash is “real” or not.

Determining the exact levels of construction in Exit Through the Gift Shop is impossible (at least until the inevitable tell-all book), but there are arguments to be made for the validity of certain elements. The film does support (through a close reading) that the evolution of Thierry Guetta from businessman to “filmmaker” to successful but derivative artist was (at least in part) a construct of Banksy’s (that merry prankster). Obviously, documentaries are complete constructs often designed to carry a specific message. (Renov 9). One of the most obvious clues that something is not quite right, is that all the footage is ostensibly Guetta’s, but it is a, “Banksy Film,” and it is Banksy (by his own admission in the movie) that made this. This in spite of the fact that (the character) Guetta is shown to be obsessed with his own footage.

In the first act, things are a little less obviously “fake” except for Guetta’s always changing motivations and personality (which is in flux throughout the film). In the beginning of first act, Guetta is shown to have had no idea how he just started filming things; it just happened more or less. Then, at the end of the first act, the film ties his fascination to filming with mother’s death. This is the first moment of the subtle shifting of the character of “Thierry Guetta.”

The title of the film is also a tremendous clue, Exit Through the Gift Shop. It is a clue to the themes (of commodification, capitalism, etc), and the construction of the events in the film into an art exhibit—with a “gift shop” to exit through. This title is just too obviously an implication that the entire film is an art project by the prankster artist, Banksy. While possibly a coincidence, it is awfully convenient that Guetta embodies that kind of gross capitalism that the film is deconstructing. He is a store owner who essentially takes advantage of fashion conscious hipsters and overcharges them on old clothes he finds and repackages as vintage. Guetta himself says, “I would sometimes take fifty dollars and turn it into five thousand.” At the end of the first act, in a wonderfully self-aware moment the narrator even quips, “Thierry’s street art documentary didn’t actually exist.” The poster for the film further reinforces this idea. It shows a man carrying out the Mona Lisa (one of the most famous works of art in the world) away in a shopping cart (as potent a symbol for capitalism as there is).



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The second act follows what might be an acceptable string of coincidences that lead Guetta (an LA business owner) to becoming Banksy’s friend. However, the “film” that Guetta cuts together from all his footage that he’s been taking over the years might be the most overt clue that this film is not entirely straightforward in its portrayal of events. Firstly, it is almost laugh out loud ridiculous and even played for laughs by the film. The footage and editing is too slick and obviously professional and the presentation too intentionally comic for it to be the amateur footage Guetta has allegedly been taking. Even the title, Life Remote Control, is hilariously stupid—denoting nothing. The reaction is also just too comic to be legitimate, especially if Guetta really was Banksy’s friend. Banksy says, “Uhmmm... You know... it was at that point that I realized that maybe Thierry wasn't actually a film maker, and he was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.” It is funny and it appears to have been designed to impugn the character of “Guetta” even more.



Later in act two, Guetta takes a picture of himself and gets “someone” (never mentioned who) to illustrate it and then pays to have it turned into stickers that resemble the stencils that street artists use. Considering how awful and lazy and derivative his "art" is later deemed by both Banksy and Fairey, it is another convenient moment embodying the soulless commodification in art that Guetta will come to embody as Mr. Brainwash. It seems a little convenient that even his first "creative" outlet is as perfectly soulless and capitalist from the very start. And, it is yet another example of the mercurial an openly contradictory nature of Guetta’s character. He has shown zero interest in art (street or otherwise) at this point. Act two ends with Banksy basically co-opting the footage that Guetta supposedly shot and suggesting that Guetta create some art of his own and hold a small sow. This is apropos of nothing. It is an odd and pretty clearly constructed moment. Why would Banksy suggest the man whom he called, “someone with mental problems” to create art? Why would he suggest that to someone who could not even trace his own stencil and created the ridiculous film, Life Remote Control—which Banksy calls “shit.” This moment seems to be a relatively clear transition to complete “construction” of characters and events (or more simply, fiction).



In act two, Banksy has his first art show in Los Angeles which is a smash on every conceivable level. In act three, Guetta strives to create a similar show, even mentioning Banksy’s show several times as “inspiration.” The symmetry is (again) a little too neat. Guetta even has his show in an abandoned television studio—a hub of media and simulacra and the hyperreal. Act three is where the film becomes more or less a "fiction," whole-cloth. Guetta decides to call himself, “Mr. Brainwash” which is an amazingly apt for an artist who has been constructed to mock the art world and its elite and the commodification of art. Once again, we see the mercurial nature of the character alleged to be “Thierry Guetta.” He becomes obsessed with art in spite of the fact that he has never done it (ever) and has no experience (or apparent talent). Yet, he still decides to mortgage his business (his and his family’s livelihood) and house (their home) to do this thing he has never done before. This is reckless, insane, and not indicative of the person seen in the first two acts. Also suspicious, is that there is always someone around Guetta (once he becomes Mister Brainwash and Banksy is allegedly editing together his footage) shooting his evolution and development as an artist. The footage is also suspiciously professional looking with no reference to who is behind the camera or why. There are even constant interviews of Guetta and his workers with full access to him and his eventual factory. This would imply that whoever is filming has Guetta’s permission (as he is interviewed) And yet somehow, that footage too somehow makes it to Banksy who is editing Guetta’s other footage. Again, this seems too convenient and professional and intentionally anonymous to be anything but a construct (for the art world and film itself). When Guetta asks both Banksy and Fairey for a quote for his show, they both oblige even though they both admit to being uncomfortable. Again, Banksy referred to him as, “someone with mental problems.” These artists clearly did not have to do this. Banksy even (according to the film) sent people to help someone whose work he has admitted to thinking of as “shit.” Now, this is possible but unlikely in light of all the other evidence.

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Banksy's Disneyland "Prank"


When Banksy was shown to be in Los Angeles for his show, he skipped out on preparations to create a (deeply political) art piece in Disneyland. When Guetta is preparing for his show, he becomes obsessed with marketing the show—not the art within the show or other art or politics. He breaks his ankle putting up a proper advertisement for his show—which is something street artists traditionally hate and often react to directly. Irvine writes, “Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Banksy, and many other have made explicit subversion of advertising space one of their main tactics” (Irvine 19). Later during the actual set-up for the show after he chastises his staff for daring to possibly choose where to hang his work, he leaves them to it, he prioritizes interviews with the press. During the show, he takes as many pictures as he can with people and actively drinks in the praise. The symmetry with Banksy is undeniable. Mr. Brainwash is acting the dark, inverse mirror image of Banksy. He is the crassly commercial, media-seeking, derivative version of Banksy. This is far too neat of a coincidence in light of the other evidence.

Guetta also becomes, in simple terms, something of a jerk during the third act. This is not something he has demonstrated before in the film. He is always kooky and odd, but Banksy refers to him as friend. Yet, he is shown harshly berating his employees who are doing the work of his show for him. This is yet another example of his shifting sense of character as the film goes on. Roger Gastman refers to him as, “kind of retarded.” This is the second time a major player in the scene has questioned his intelligence, yet he continues to help him for no apparent reason. It seems unlikely that these major players (Banksy, Fairey, Gastman) would be helping someone “retarded, “ “shit,” inexperienced, derivative, so on, if there was not a different end game.

In the credits, it is even revealed that Guetta’s wife has begun filming with his now discarded camera. She is barely mentioned in the film, yet she is mentioned here. It is too convenient of a possibility and symmetry to be a coincidence in light of everything else.

Finally, the last scene of the film is so deeply metaphorical, stylized, and indicative of Mister Brainwash’s constructed nature that it is impossible to ignore or take at face value. The scene involves Guetta (Mister Brainwash) tagging a wall with the title of his show, “Life is beautiful.” He just sprays the wall and walks away. Then, a bulldozer crushes the wall and his tag, revealing that the wall is unconnected to any building and weak and a ruin. This is an amazing metaphor for the entire persona of Mister Brainwash. The whole scene is obviously constructed and planned. It is the middle of the day, the bulldozer immediately destroys the wall. Why would else would Guetta (now a successful artist) agree to this obviously staged scene that subtextually implies he is fake—unless his persona actually is a fake. This scene (along with the mountain of other evidence) leaves not other interpretation of Mister Brainwash as anything other than a construct created by Banksy for his own reasons.

Obviously, the evidence is overwhelming within the text alone for Mister Brainwash being a construct of Banksy’s (at least on some level). However, whoever Thierry “is” he is clearly trusted by Banksy to keep this secret and ruse going (if indeed it is one). The footage in the first act of him filming these street artists does appear legitimate, and if he is trusted by Banksy, it would imply he does have some sort of presence within the Street art scene to some extent. Who he actually is and his role in this is unclear, but he does appear have some relationship to these figures. It is his emergence into the art scene as Mister Brainwash (and that whole persona) that appears to be the fabrication for and within the film.

Mister Brainwash being a construction has many implications. Obviously, Banksy (and whoever else involved) would only construct such an elaborate prank with good reason and strong intentions (the outlay of time and resources ensures that). As Banksy ensures the audience at the beginning of the film, “there’s probably a moral in there somewhere.” First off, as a piece of media, it is an elegant criticism of the documentary/news form (model) that people often take for granted as “true.” It is an excellent deconstruction of that genre because the film does not use special effects to generate its footage. Everything “happened,” (in front of a camera) but that in no way means it is “true.” The entire film is an example of Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreal. “It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (Baudrillard 1). Exit Through the Gift Shop and Mister Brainwash are simulacra with no actual reference to the real that nonetheless carry real power (Baudrillard 7). Banksy even goes to Disneyland (one of Baudrillard’s favorite examples of the hyperreal) and leaves a simulacrum of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. This then leads to the park shutting down and Disney (the alleged children’s company) behaving like the actual military in Guantanamo Bay and question Guetta for four hours. The simulacra being more real than reality is Baurdrillard’s concept of the hyperreal and could not be more perfectly embodied than this sequence. If Mister Brainwash is indeed a construct, then he is another example of the simulacrum (of street artists) being more real than real. Shephard Fairey even quips that he learned his tricks from the street artists he had been around (how he became their reflection). Shepard even says at one point that the image, “gets real power from perceived power.” That is a perfect hyperreal summation of the construction of Mister Brainwash. This film is clearly critiquing the media and the celebrities that report to be true and real while in fact being nothing more than simulacra. Exit Through the Gift Shop deconstructs the media and personas within it as hyperreal constructs.

Probably the film’s biggest polemic is the deconstruction of the art world and the commodification therein. There are inseparable points because while it is more than just the commodification of art that Banksy is criticizing within the art world, it is the primary argument/criticism. Money is (and likely always has been) tremendously important in the art scene. There has been a tremendous influx of cash in the art scene since the 1980s (Robert and McDaniel 12), as well as the growth of contemporary art as a cash cow (Smith 132). And again, a lot of that money has flooded into the Street srt scene to artists like Banksy (seen in the film selling a piece for half a million dollars) and Shepard Fairey. There is also fellow Briton, Damien Hirst putting a piece up for sale for fifty million pounds (Smith 117). The agenda within the art scene (what is considered “good”) seems to be continually made by the auction house and a handful of collectors. The auction house (as pure an example of capitalism as there might be) alongside the museum has become important in pushing the scene and institutionalizing art (Smith 122). Banksy even mentions this in his book. He writes, “Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires” (Banksy 103). Clearly, the contemporary art scene (including the hot genre of Street Art) is being determined and decided by a handful of the super rich and the auction house. All of this amply illustrated and analyzed in Exit. Banksy shows scenes of his own work selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And according to the film that money and prestige begins to spread to the rest of the Street art Scene. If one accepts Mister Brainwash is a construction, the film is one giant deconstruction/criticism of the commodification of art. Mister Brainwash (no doubt, the film’s “villain”) was once a shop owner (allegedly) who essentially cheated customers for old clothes. He is almost a parody of a Marxian businessman exploiting the system for capital. He says at one point, “from fifty dollars I could make five thousand.” This is one the first things told about Thierry as well, that he is a businessman who takes advantage of callow fashionistas (just like his art does later). Guetta’s first “creative” act is to “have” (the term used) someone illustrate a picture of himself and then pay to have it turned into a clear sticker that resembles the stencils “actual” (or legitimate) street artists utilize. This is his first creative impulse, and he merely uses capital to generate something. The third act contains the most obvious examples of Mister Brainwash commodifying art. This act begins with him essentially creating another business by (allegedly) mortgaging his (first) business and home to hire other people and buy equipment to create “his” art for him. The narrator even says that he is ready to, “create on a commercial scale.” Guetta even compares himself to Hirst at one point, saying, “When you have Damien Hirst, one of the most expensive artists in our generation today and having a hundred people working for him, you think that he’s going to come and cut little papers and stick the glue? No. I’m not gonna make it.” This is an incredibly, disgustingly capitalistic conception of art (and pretty harsh criticism of Hirst). Guetta is not going to create anything himself by his own admission; he plans to use his capital to pay others to create art for him that he can then claim as his own. This is in tremendous contrast (at least within the film) to Banksy (and some extent Fairey) who are always seen invested in their own work and doing it themselves in spite of their own massive wealth. This scene alone is a scathing satire of Warhol’s factory, Hirst’s mentality, and capitalism writ large. It makes those grow rich of the labor of others appear foolish, lazy, and small; that is classically Marxist. When Guetta plans his huge show in Los Angeles he absolute masses of art. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces that he in no way actually made, merely bankrolled. He does not even choose where to place them in the space. One of the staff even says, “he didn’t know how to do any of this himself, so he hired people who did.” Once again, his ignorance and lack of talent are irrelevant because he has capital. Guetta breaks his leg while putting a proper advertisement (as ugly a symbol of late capitalism as there is). He gives away a promotional poster to the first two hundred people in the door (which is an old business tactic). His show makes nearly a million dollars in its first week. The narrator quips, “The ultimate validation was measured in dollars and cents.” Guetta says, “from the people [and by extension their money] I get accepted.” So, if one assumes that Mister Brainwash is a construction, a hyperreal example of the art scene, then his gross commodification of art in a scene that embraces such commodification can only be read as a severe criticism of both artists who do that (Warhol and Hirst are both mentioned by name and even Banksy himself makes a lot of money) and a scene where money is the arbiter of quality and canonization. In a scene where a few millionaires make the decisions, Banksy wished to satirize the effects of capital in the fine art scene in a way it cannot refute.

First of all, Mister Brainwash’s work is terrible. He rips off Warhol, Banksy, Fairey, and many, many other artists. Banksy even says, “his art looks like everyone else’s.” He has other people create it, and steals the ideas he pays them to create from an art book to create art that both Banksy and Fairey dismiss as terrible. Fairey calls people who bought it and into it, “suckers.” Banksy refers to his work as, “meaningless.”






Yet in spite of (or cynically speaking, because of) Guetta’s work’s horrible qualities, it is tremendously successful. There is a montage in the film of callow hipster types lavishing his work with ignorant praise. One woman even says she wished she saw, “more stuff like this.” This is textbook irony considering his work, “looks like everyone else’s” and just demonstrates the ignorance of people who even intake art. But, Banksy said a few hundred people determine art, and it is the auction house that now canonizes. So, because Mister Brainwash makes money, he is considered an interesting artist. Even though, he sells derivative art that is not even created by him. Assuming again that Mister Brainwash is a construct, he is there to shame the art world and show its contradictions and utter lack of discriminatory judgment. His work is terrible and derivative and not even created by him and yet an absolute smash that brings him wealth and prestige from the fine art scene. Banksy wants to embarrass those millionaires and auction houses and show that as he says, “maybe it means that art is a joke.” (For Banksy, it has always been somewhat of a joke.) Banksy aims to criticize the art world for being small and insular and easily duped and actually lacking any semblance of a critical eye or understanding of art at all beyond the occasional accident. Banksy aims to embarrass the art world for allowing the dollar to be king and the auction house to write history. He aims expose the artistic emptiness of artists like Hirst who embrace the dollar’s power and not do a thing themselves but rather use their capital to generate more capital from the work of others. While, the film does not necessarily proscribe anything, it seriously (and scathingly) deconstructs the hypocrisies in the contemporary art scene and its politics.

One of the more difficult criticisms to parse out is the ghost of Pop and Warhol. Mister Brainwash is in some ways fashioned as a specter of Warhol. The similarities are not coincidental—particularly, if one accepts Mister Brainwash is a construct. Like Warhol, he has a factory, he pursues fame and success, and is a-political. In fact, Banksy makes the connection in the film itself. He says, “Warhol repeated iconic images until they became meaningless, but there was still something iconic about them. Thierry really makes them meaningless.” Warhol was obsessed with fame, “the glamour of a star” (de Duve 2) and wanted to be a “businessman artist” (de Duve 2). For Warhol art was a commodity and the scene was a business. Given Banksy and Fairey’s very open thoughts about Guetta (“shit,” “mentally ill,” etc.), the comparison to Pop and Warhol is not flattering. While it seems unlikely that Banksy considers Warhol as shallow as Mister Brainwash, he certainly seems to be arguing that it was a movement that needed to be moved past. This makes sense especially in light of how political his and Fairey’s work can often be. That said, it is an at best ambiguous discussion of Pop Art that might be more negative than it appears.

One of the film’s more interesting arguments is that there is bad and there are bad artists. Banksy hammers this point home with his final monologue. He says, “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don’t so much do that anymore.” While this may seem a fairly obvious argument, it is not a common one heard in the fine art scene or from artists. It is an interestingly conservative position from a decidedly iconoclastic artist as well. Arguing that some people should not make art is a loaded thing to say, and not something one would expect from an egalitarian like Banksy. It is one of the more interesting discourses in the film and is more thought-provoking than anything else.

Most of the conclusions drawn so far could still be argued to an extent even were Mister Brainwash not a construct. They would lose weight but could still be argued. However, this last point necessitates that Mister Brainwash be a construct of Banksy’s. Most of the film, Banksy has been deconstructing (or taking the piss out of, as he would likely quip) the art scene, capitalism/commodification, other artists, the wealthy, Pop Art, Warhol, and so forth. His last target, however, is himself. Assuming that Mister Brainwash is at least in part a Banksy creation (as the evidence suggests) then he is also a funhouse mirror version of Banksy in many ways. Brainwash did it more quickly and with much more terrible work, but he shot to fame and fortune quickly like Banksy. Guetta’s work technically began in the street (through stickers he paid to have made) and moved into the studio where he was validated by the money of the same few hundred rich people who love Banksy’s work as well. Guetta’s has a show in Los Angeles as well Banksy. Guetta even explicitly mentions how some people are now comparing him to Banksy. Now, there is no way these symmetries are accidental (even if the film is taken on face value), but if Mister Brainwash is a construction there is an added depth to the symmetry. Banksy is coming to terms with and processing his own rise to fame through a funhouse mirror inversion of himself who sells terrible art that he did not make himself and is still validated in the same fundamental way. He is coming to terms with his own fame and deconstructing himself which he has a tendency to do. Ultimately, Banksy is reminding himself and the viewers that the same foolish art scene that he shamed that validated Mister Brainwash is the same art scene art scene that validated him (and Picasso and Monet and so on). As he says, “maybe it means that art is a joke.” It is a moment to remind people to take no one (no matter how canonized) for granted. So, lastly, Banksy, “takes the piss” out of himself.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is not a proscriptive film. It de-constructs in the Derridan sense and exposes false binaries and contradictions within these seemingly sacred systems. Banksy is playing the part of the “bricoleur” and moving between these systems to make his argument (Derrida 88). But, the film does not espouse any clear politics or any changes to be made. It merely unseats the status quo and exposes the foolish. The film’s strongest polemic is against the commodification of art, but even that carries no call for some Marxist utopia, just decries the folly of those in power (another bricoleur moment). Banksy’s film deconstructs the art scene, capitalism, Warhol, and Banksy himself, leaving the viewer with nothing but criticisms against. There is definitely a moral in there somewhere--probably more than one. But Banksy isn’t about to tell.








List of Web Sources and Links




Images Courtesy of:

http://aroundthesphere.wordpress.com/
http://www.coggles.com/
http://freshneasybuzz.blogspot.com/
http://flavorwire.com/
Imdb.com
http://linleeloves.blogspot.com/
http://www.sitebits.com/
http://themoviegoer-danny.blogspot.com/
TheSmuggler.com
http://urbanhierogliph.blogspot.com/

Video Courtesy of:

Youtube.com

Direct Image Links:

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mgrefurl=http://markmeynell.wordpress.com/category/arts/advertising/&usg=W-pmELhlwY7XI4GFW0Uc31ErL8M=&h=217&w=220&sz=9&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=I6MJReUrSlGEnM:&tbnh=145&tbnw=139&ei=_0_ITfisG4TVgAestpTOBA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dwarhol%2Belvis%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26biw%3D1280%26bih%3D580%26tbm%3Disch&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=464&page=1&ndsp=15&ved=1t:429,r:6,s:0&tx=35&ty=3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXj06E5dphM&feature=player_embedded Direct Video Links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXj06E5dphM&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTGHus5_HBw&feature=player_embedded

Works Cited and Consulted


Banksy. Wall and Piece. Mainaschaff: Publikat, 2007. Print.

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994. Print.

Bolton, Linda. Pop Art. New York: Peter Bedrick, 2000. Print.

Cockcroft, Eva Sperling., John Pitman Weber, and James D. Cockcroft. Toward a People's Art: the Contemporary Mural Movement. New York: Dutton, 1977. Print.

Cooke, Lynne, and Karen J. Kelly. Robert Lehman Lectures on Contemporary Art. New York, NY: Dia Art Foundation, 2009. Print.

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