The emperor’s new street art

Warning to documentary film fans: today’s post contains spoilers.
Last week, we watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, the 2010 Oscar nominated documentary that was supposedly directed by the UK artist Banksy. Trying to summarize it would be like trying to solve a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. The gist is that LA wannabe-filmmaker Thierry Guetta pursues the mysterious Banksy in order to document his work as well as that of other street artists. After landing his prey, Guetta’s film proves unwatchable. As a result, Bansky turns the tables and creates his own film that follows Guetta’s haphazard foray into the LA art scene. While it all appears utterly plausible, the nature of the guerilla art tactics makes us wonder, how much of what we’re watching happened naturally and how much was contrived by the disguised Bansky, who provides hilarious & deft commentary throughout.

We were fascinated by the perspective that the movie offers on our recent topic of life-as-art. Initially, Thierry Guetta is compelled to capture everything around him on film, to the point that he is addicted to the camera. But when the camera as filter begins to dissolve, he can no longer just observe and begins to behave as his street artist subjects do. However, he applies a layman’s view to his projects, mimicking every stunt we’ve seen in the film with no spark of originality. Now he is in front of the camera and immediately subject to our judgement. Does his work have any validity? Is he aware of that criticism and is it part of a deliberate statement on his part? Or is he just hoping to commercialize the entire enterprise so that he can create the most profitable street art exhibition in history, which he manages to do in the end.
This is a highly entertaining movie and we’d recommend it to anyone. But people who’ve ever questioned the definition of art or wondered what makes good art will find it especially engaging. If you’ve already seen it, tell us: Do you think that Thierry Guetta is a legitimate artist and why?

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