by Sally Applin
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is Banksy’s confession about commerce. Most people who see the film know that Banksy is behind Mister Brainwash. This is an attempt to understand why.
The basic plot of the art film is about a Thierry Guetta, a French videographer, with a OCD video disorder that compels him to film everything.
Guetta films the “Street Art” scene, following it for 10 years, which culminates with his meeting the reclusive artist Banksy.
In the film, Banksy encourages Guetta to make the Street Art documentary that he had talked of making for the past 10 years. When Guetta finally does make the film, Banksy dismisses it — referring to it as something like “a basic channel changing ADHD nightmare.”
As a result, Banksy encourages Guetta to become a street artist on his own and to have a show, while Banksy makes the documentary.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is the film that Banksy made about Guetta’s pursuit of a “career” as a Street Artist.
Guetta hocks his possessions and hires talented graphic designers, artists, set-builders and others to create art for him. In doing so, Guetta creates a post-modern Warhol factory–churning out an inventory of pop-art manifestos. The pieces are described as the end result of Guetta’s imagination running wild.
Piece after piece of art emerge in the worst mash-up of all commerical styles: there are classical paintings with gas masks, pop-figures depicted as Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, giant matchbox cars, paint cans, a boombox and tomato soup cans (but in a “spray”) in the style of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, and other paintings–all baring the distinct style of the artists that Guetta has followed–particularly Banksy, and Banky’s idol: Andy Warhol.
The end-product of all this manufacturing is a giant art show, where Guetta, who has now renamed himself “Mister Brainwash” or MBW, makes his debut.
The Street Artists and Banksy are interviewed and react with amazement that with no real training or talent, Guetta was able to create more pieces than anyone else, faster than anyone and to mount a massive art show that is a commercial success.
The thing is about all of that, is, well, it’s a story. A fantasy. From Fantasyland.
The pivotal point in the film isn’t when Banksy takes over the camera.
The pivital point is when Banksy and Guetta go to Disneyland during the mounting of Banksy’s big show in Los Angeles, two years before.
In 2006, Banksy came to LA to prepare for a warehouse show of his art. (In the film, he claims to leave during the mounting, but it was a few months before the show.)
Banksy took some time off to visit Disneyland and while there, installed a “Guantanamo Bay detainee” in the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland. Guetta accompanied him.
When Banksy and Guetta first arrive to the park, Guetta inquiries if Mickey Mouse is there. The ticket agent says that Mickey Mouse is in the park, in Fantasyland–and will be there all day.
Banksy installed his art and Guetta filmed and photographs the installation. While Banksy is changing clothing, Guetta notices he is being followed and tries to leave the park–and is subsequently caught.
As the Disney security interrogates Guetta in their own “Guantanomo Bay,” the film repeatedly cuts to photos of ‘It’s a Small World,” in Fantasyland.
After Guetta’s interrogation, Banksy says in the film that after this episode, he had no trouble at all deeply trusting Guetta.
It is at this point, that Banksy realized that Guetta could also potentially be the “front” for Banksy wanting to sell his art more commercially.
Banksy makes Guetta the “Mickey Mouse” to Banksy’s “Walt Disney.”
As the film continues, we return to Mister Brainwash and his show. The public laps it up and thinks MBW is a genius.
The real genius is Banksy, who knows that if he were to suddenly start selling greeting cards, coffee mugs and posters, the value of his identity as a “Street Artist” would plummet. So Banksy invents the character “Mister Brainwash” who creates and sells the art for him.
(A note about Disney: Walt Disney dreamed up the Disney characters and Disneyland, and yet, when political or ethics movements make a play at mocking corporate America, they avoid the artist of Walt Disney, and instead use his character of Mickey Mouse to take the rap.)
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is about commerce. A large-scale advertisement for Banksy’s Mickey Mouse: Mister Brainwash. It’s a way to sell the MBW themed items through the giant gift shops that are the worldwide installations of the Mister Brainwash exhibitions.
Trend: Scapegoating for profit! Everybody’s doing it–from Guantanemo Bay to Disney to…….Banksy.