Thursday, March 17, 2016

Steve’s Selections #15 – Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

First things first, this is a few days late.  Steve Honeywell at 1001plus and I plan to post our monthly reviews of the films each of us gave the other on the second Monday of the Month.  This time I gave Steve a heads up that health would prevent me from being able to do so on schedule this month.  I have since watched the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop and I liked it.  The big question surrounding this documentary is whether it is a hoax or not.  I have no firm opinion one way of the other, but I will submit that in the end, it actually doesn’t matter.

If you take things at face value this is a documentary that was sort of going to be about “street artists”.  Amateur cameraman Thierry Guetta, who has the attention span of a squirrel, hooked up with first his cousin then with other people and he recorded them creating their art.  He told all of them he was making a documentary.  This went on for years. He shot who knows how many thousands of hours of footage.

Guetta finally connected with the most famous and most elusive street artist of them all – Banksy.  The two became friends.  Banksy eventually encouraged Guetta to finally make that long gestating documentary.  When Banksy saw it he realized Guetta didn’t have a clue what he was doing.  Banksy then took over the footage and refocused the documentary on Guetta instead.  Guetta goes on to become a popular artist himself and that is the movie we see.

Those folks crying foul say that Banksy is a known trickster, that Guetta is a complete fabrication, that the two of them are the same person, and even wilder ones I read.  The one pattern I saw start to emerge in the comments was a desire to not want to believe the last act of the movie was real.  Not that people had proof it was fake; that they want it to be, even need it to be because of what it would say about the world of art if it were real.

If a man as bumbling and inconsistent as Guetta can turn himself into an overnight art sensation simply by copying others, notably Banksy and Warhol, then how much real integrity is there is the movers and shakers who decide what is and isn’t good art?

Now I have always maintained that the “art” in modern art lies not in the creation of it, but in successfully convincing someone else to give you money for it.  And if this doc is real, boy does it illustrate that in spades.  At one point Guetta has to create 200 “unique” works of art to hand out to the first 200 people to his show.  He has his people lay posters down then wheel him rapidly along, splattering paint over the posters – no rhyme or reason to the application of the splatters – just a man trying to check off a task prior to the opening of his show.

And as I said at the top, it doesn’t really matter if this is fake or real because it’s the same condemnation of the art world.  It’s just one way it might be Banksy doing the condemning.

Ultimately, I tend to think this is real.  At the very beginning of the movie Guetta is shown as the owner of a retro-clothing store.  He brags about how he buys huge bags of clothes for $50 then turns around and sells them to the trendy folks for $400 per piece of clothing.  By the end he is simply doing the same thing with his art: creating a big buzz for his product and selling it for many times what it is worth.

In regards to fakes the obvious comparison is Orson Welles’ film F for Fake (1973).  I would call that a better movie than this.  And if this is a straightforward doc on the hypocrisy of the art world then I would call it comparable to Art and Craft (2014).  That doc featured an art forger who for 30 years painted copies, but then simply donated them to museums.  “Experts” in art were brought it and always verified that these were real paintings.  He was finally found out when there were so many copies of the same painting in various museums that the art directors comparing notes discovered it.

Exit Through the Gift Shop does not require an interest in art to enjoy.  In fact, it may be better if you’re not too serious about it.  If I gave half star ratings this would be 3.5 stars.  I definitely recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. I like how meta this gets. Whether or not this is real or an elaborate scam is, I think, not really important. If it's real, it becomes an indictment on the art world. If it's a fake, it's the same indictment with an extra layer of extended middle finger.

    1. I completely agree. If you haven't seen it then I defininitely recommend Art and Craft to you.

  2. I am also in agreement that it matters not whether this is "real." What it says about the art world doesn't change. I kinda hope it isn't real, meaning Banksy got one over on all of us. Either way, this is one of the more fun docs I've seen.

    1. And the fact that people can't really be sure about the movie is a meta aspect, too, because the movie says you can't ever be sure about "art".