Have you seen the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop? What did you think? Did you know it was nominated for an Oscar? Will Bansky, the anonymous and mysterious graffiti artist from London, be at the awards tonight? There are spoilers in this post, so if you haven't seen it, stop reading and go watch it now.
I loved the beginning of the movie, with all the behind the scenes footage of creating street art, stuff I had actually seen in New York and London. Space Invader, one of my favorites, plays a critical role. But by the end of the movie I was simultaneously laughing and getting totally irritated, when the main character, Thierry Guetta aka Mr Brainwash, just clearly does not take any of what he is doing seriously. Or at least, not as seriously as you would think a serious artist with a major art exhibition would take things. So, I had to wonder, is he a serious artist? And then I wondered, what *IS* a serious artist? And then, what is *ART*? Eep. To say that this movie made me think is an understatement.
Mr. Brainwash charged obscene amounts of money for a derivative pieces of art that he didn't even make himself and strange, rich, art collectors, who seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon of the most current trend, were actually buying it. It was amazing. Thierry was laughing at them, Banksy was laughing at Thierry and I was laughing and wondering at the whole lot of it. Is the point of art these days simply to make money? Is that the mark of a successful artist?
After the movie finished I started looking up articles online to try to get a clearer picture of what I had just seen and what I found was of the opinion that this movie was a farce entirely created by Banksy, but I'm not so sure. I like the idea that the first half of the movie is true, real footage and a real story about Thierry and the graffiti artists that are shown and that the second half, after Thierry shows his terrible documentary to Banksy, is puppeteered by Banksy though not entirely scripted by him.
I don't think that Thierry is an actor, he is not making it all up, but I do think that he has been set up to make a point about modern art and artists and art buying. Banksy is having to struggle with many moral issues that come along with a street artist gaining notoriety and celebrity. He is facing all kinds of decisions about how to present himself, who to be and maybe even how to make a living creating this art. Pushing Thierry into the limelight allows Banksy to explore these themes in a public way without actually having to do it himself. Thierry is a willing guinea pig, happy to be taking these opportunities, and becoming his dream. I just don't think he is in on the joke.
The introduction of money, into any endeavor, often changes it. As soon as people are paid for something, their credibility and reputation are questioned. Do they really think or feel a particular way, or are they being paid to say something. The artist isn't making art to make art anymore, or to make a statement. The artist is now making money. They can be bought and they can be influenced.
If you are a street artist, or a punk musician, or an indy band and all of a sudden you start making money, you are a sell out. But is it such a bad thing? Don't we all want to be paid to do what we love? Why is being profitable so at odds with an alternative, renegade viewpoint?
I think the reason is that the artist's message, and by extension the artist themselves, is often diluted or even undermined by where ever the money is coming from. If the sponsors, or the audience are at odds with the message, then it feels inauthentic. It's not true anymore. You can't TRUST it.
Banksy's art is all about truths, he likes to point out the forces behind the facades, the little nuggets of wisdom behind a complex idea. If you take it off the street and put it in an art gallery, it has the potential to loose it's context and it's credibility. It doesn't always mean the same thing on a white wall with a price tag on it.
But Banksy has shown that you can make money at this if you are careful. He's staged exhibits at galleries, his LA show Barely Legal featured a massive elephant in the room, he has published books and has now made an Oscar nominated movie, profiting all the way. And yet, the Banksy Shop, on his website, doesn't actually have anything for sale.
So, with all of this confusion, juxtaposition and contradiction, it's hard to say what Banksy will do at the Oscars tonight. Will he simply not show up and let the producer pick up the award? Will he claim his prize wearing a monkey mask? Will five people go up on stage, all claiming to be Banksy? I am very curious to see what he will do next, that's for sure, but I do hope that it's something different. Though different at this point, for Bansky, might be something as normal as just being himself.