Street-art apoc­a­lypse

Exit Through the Gift Shop, street-art pranku­men­tary, rated R, CCA Cine­math­eque, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Casey Sanchez I The New Mex­i­can

Billed as “the world’s first street-art dis­as­ter movie” Exit Through

the Gift Shop is a laugh-out-loud com­edy and prank-show-cum-doc­u­men­tary that shows how street art was trans­formed from a dan­ger­ous, un­der­ground artis­tic pur­suit into a highly profitable farce, in which celebrity on­look­ers like Christina Aguil­era drop tens of thou­sands of dol­lars for spray-paint sten­cils of Queen Vic­to­ria hav­ing les­bian sex.

It is the tale of two men, Bris­tol street artist Banksy and Thierry Guetta, a French ex­pat liv­ing in L.A. who is ob­sessed with doc­u­ment­ing the world of street art. Banksy is a first-rate artist and a world-class provo­ca­teur. Un­der cover of night, he sneaked along the di­vi­sive West Bank wall in Is­rael to paint a mu­ral of a Pales­tinian girl be­ing lifted over the bar­rier by a bal­loon. In Alabama, he sten­ciled a robed Klans­man hang­ing in a noose on the side of an aban­doned build­ing. Most stun­ning of all, he smug­gled a man­nequin — hooded and garbed in an orange Guan­tá­namo Bay prison uni­form — into Dis­ney­land, plant­ing it within full view of the Big Thun­der Moun­tain Rail­road ride, a po­lit­i­cal prank that shut down the park for half a day.

Guetta couldn’t be more his op­po­site. A dealer of vin­tage clothes, he has rangy hair and mut­ton chops that make him look like a scoundrel out of a Dick­ens novel. He ditches his wife and chil­dren on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions to jet around the world, film­ing street artists — be­gin­ning with his cousin, known by his street so­bri­quet, Space Invader. Hav­ing a con­nec­tion in this no­to­ri­ously guarded pack of in­sid­ers, Guetta moves on to film the lu­mi­nar­ies of a scene that nar­ra­tor Rhys Ifans says was “poised to be­come the biggest coun­ter­cul­tural move­ment since punk.”

Guetta tags along with New York street artist Swoon as she clan­des­tinely makes wheat­past­ings. He scales ware­house roofs to film Shep­ard Fairey, the in­ter­na­tion­ally cel­e­brated street artist be­hind the Obama “Hope” poster. Then, most im­pres­sive of all, he be­gins film­ing Banksy, an artist so reclu­sive that he only ap­pears in the film in sil­hou­ette, wear­ing a hoodie, with his voice al­tered.

It’s here where the film goes hay­wire. Af­ter years of film­ing street artists, Guetta is or­dered by Banksy to make a movie. How­ever, Guetta is com­pletely in­ept as a filmmaker and ends up pro­duc­ing a jit­tery train wreck of a video that looks less like a doc­u­men­tary than it does a Ri­talin over­dose. Deeply shocked, Banksy takes con­trol of the tapes and de­mands that, if Guetta is so fas­ci­nated by street art, he should start mak­ing it him­self.

Guetta’s ego in­flates to an ap­pro­pri­ately Los An­ge­lesque size. He re­names him­self Mr. Brain­wash and mort­gages his home and busi­ness to fund a small ar­mada of painters, silk-screen­ers, and Pho­to­shop­pers to crank out de­riv­a­tive street art on a scale only pre­vi­ously at­tempted by Andy Warhol’s The Fac­tory. He cor­rals Banksy and Fairey into pro­mot­ing his art ex­hibit, ex­ploits them to land on the cover of LA Weekly, and cre­ates an open­ing for his show

Life Is Beau­ti­ful that be­comes the art event of the year. Fairey looks stunned at what he’s un­leashed, and Banksy seems be­mused by the mer­cu­rial machi­na­tions of the art mar­ket.

Or does he? Sev­eral as­tute com­men­ta­tors have sug­gested that the film is one more bizarre hoax cooked up by Banksy, whose ca­reer is built around du­plic­ity. While the thought is worth con­sid­er­ing, Guetta, es­pe­cially as his street-art al­ter ego, Mr. Brain­wash, is a man so ab­surd, driven, and bizarre, he could only be­long to real life. Whether it’s a fraud or not, Exit Through the Gift Shop is the doc­u­men­tary reck­on­ing of street art that the move­ment de­serves. Be­tween the footage of Banksy smug­gling his work into New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art and hang­ing it on the walls, un­de­tected by se­cu­rity guards, to Fairey work­ing on his sten­cil en­large­ments in­side Kinko’s, this is the rare film that delivers on the prom­ise of ac­tu­ally cap­tur­ing art in all its messy, in­sane cre­ation.

Be­yond the com­edy and the drama, the viewer comes away from the film think­ing that he’s lived through one of the great mo­ments in art his­tory. Street art, the post-graf­fiti re­nais­sance of sten­cil­ing, wheat­past­ing, LED art, and sticker bomb­ing in hi­jacked pub­lic spa­ces across the world has in many ways be­come the Sa­lon des Re­fusés of our time. You be­gin to re­al­ize that, just as Parisian artists twisted the arc of art his­tory by ex­hibit­ing the work of artists re­jected by the sa­lons, to­day’s street artists have per­formed a sim­i­lar ser­vice in ask­ing us to re­gard our pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture of high­ways, build­ings, side­walks, and walls as beau­ti­ful, ephemeral gal­leries unto them­selves.

If

I told you, I’d have to kill you: Banksy

A barely le­gal ele­phant at Ban­sky’s L.A. show

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