email from phil: you gals ever do film reviews? saw “exit through the gift shop” at the ritz the other night. i haven’t seen such a bummer movie since requiem for a dream! if you get a chance go see that one
Phil got it right. In the midst of Picassos selling for $106.5 million and $100 art works becoming, alas, part of their makers’ own collections, the film Exit through the Gift Shop serves as a clarifying–and confusing–film, especially for any sincere artist trying to navigate the commercial realities of selling art.
Clarifying–the film will convince you at a deeper gut level than ever before that in the world of art marketing, art’s value (i.e. price) has little to do with art’s value (i.e. quality).
Confusing–The film will make you realize that the difference between great and not great, genuine and not genuine, while it’s there, is often difficult to discern, so difficult as to make this difference often irrelevant in the marketplace. This is not news. But here it is too convincing to pretend otherwise, and like it or not, we all pretend otherwise most of the time.
The film is full of surprises as it follows Thierry Guetta, an obsessive guy with a video camera, shooting endless footage documenting street artists in action. Thierry works his way up the street artist celebrity ladder, beginning with his cousin, street artist Space Invader; to Shepard Fairey; to ultimately Banksy.
Thierry begins talking about making a film of the documentation–that’s part of how he gets access to Banksy’s pranks, but Thierry never really expects to make that film. All he wants to do is document.
Along the way, he sees what street artists do and how they do it. Then he tries his own hand at wheat pasting and finally, in a shocking, manic episode, at throwing an art extravaganza–renting a warehouse and filling it with stuff a posse of young artists make for him. To pay for the venue, the assistants and the materials, he risks every nickel he has–hocking even his house (he has a family including children who live there).
His art manufacturing process parodies a large, multi-assistant artist’s studio. The work Thierry’s studio produces is an unintentional parody of everything Thierry has absorbed in his video adventures.
Part of the power of the film comes from the ambiguity of Thierry’s intentions. He may not intend to be a fraud. He probably does intend to be an artist. His clearest intention is the desire to make money. The man has a genius for business and marketing. But like everyone else, Thierry is complicated and simplification of his motives is not possible.
As you watch the movie you might think he’s a little dopey. You might feel sorry for his long-suffering kids and wife (how does she remain cheerful throughout? he seems like such a loser). But at some level the joke will be on you and your assumptions.
Banksy, who encouraged Thierry to have his own show, is whipsawed by the outcome–so whipsawed that he made this movie, a mea culpa of what he unleashed on the art world. And maybe a work of revenge for being duped. Banksy comes across as brilliant, but maybe not all that nice after all.
The movie, which starts out as a portrait of a man with a camera, turns out to be a portrait of a crazy world where good is bad, bad is good, and everyone is thrown off balance, including you, the viewer. Phil had some good advice. Go see it.
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