Exit Through the Gift Shop

A documentary on the art world may strike you as a yawn. No worries. You'll be laughing helplessly at this one. The subject is Banksy, the British graffiti artist who studiously avoids being photographed, the better to launch his illegal bursts of creativity on walls and buildings, soon erased. Shockingly, or perhaps out of a need to see his street art preserved, Banksy lets French videographer Thierry Guetta shoot his work. Then, when Guetta starts making his own art, Banksy switches roles and directs a movie about Guetta. We see Banksy in the shadows, his voice disguised, his amusement uncontained at what the world sees as art and how much they'll pay for it.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, a title that tilts wittily at the commercialization of the underground, only sounds nuts. The wild ride of a film, narrated with mock seriousness by Rhys Ifans, sees the art world as a circus, taking in the nut jobs and the celebrated likes of Shepard Fairey, Neckface, Swoon and Banksy himself. We watch in shock and awe as Guetta reinvents himself as the artist Mr. Brainwash, fooling the media and himself in the process. Or maybe not. The line between making guerrilla art and selling out has never blurred more provocatively.

From The Archives Issue 384: December 9, 1982