The mysterious Banksy strikes again!  This time however, instead of bombing a wall, billboard, or gallery, he’s tagging the big screen.  Exit Through The Gift Shop is a film about street art, pop art, and everyone caught up in it all.  Specifically, it focuses on nouveau graffiti/pop-art phenom Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, whose works have marked the blank, urban spaces of LA for a couple of years now.  It explores the allure and a danger of losing one’s self in the intriguing world of street art.  Check out the review after the jump…

English graffiti artist Banksy has become likely the most mysterious artistic mind of our time.  His incendiary art has appeared all over the world in London, New York, Los Angeles, and perhaps most famously on the controversial wall separating Israel from the West Bank.  Banksy’s true identity is unknown to practically the whole world, and understandably so, given the extremely illegal nature of the media he works in.  He appears with his face shrouded under a black hoodie, and his voice altered.

As the film opens, he explains that this film originally began when an obsessive French videographer named Thierry Guetta began making his own documentary about Banksy, but eventually proved to be a more interesting subject himself.  After being introduced to the street art community as some one willing to document the exploits of those who put themselves yet still retain their secrecy, Guetta is encouraged by Banksy himself to get more involved and create his own art.  Guetta dives headfirst, perhaps even beyond his ability, and attempts to create a series of works to rival his peers who have been in the game considerably longer than he.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is an extremely well structured and paced film.  It provides sufficient background on the history of street art and its community to provide even the most unfamiliar viewer a clear understanding of the mission this modern art form.  It is often whimsical, always confrontational, and violently expressive with utter disregard for anyone who gets in its way (or their property).  However, in spite of these seemingly unattractive qualities, it has gained increasing legitimacy of late.  Shepherd Fairey, creator of the Andre the Giant “Obey” brand, and most famously the red & blue Barack Obama poster, has sold works to individuals whose collections also include Picassos and Rembrandts.  Banksy’s recent gallery openings in New York and Los Angeles have attracted thousands of gawking aficionados.  Yet in its purest form, spray-painted or wheat pasted on walls, billboards, and trains, street art is of an extremely temporary nature.  This forces artists to constantly be creating and finding new venues for their work.  This film depicts street art as possibly the freest and most expressive form of modern art.

It is Guetta’s clear understanding of this type of art and sheer enthusiasm for it that makes him such a compelling character to watch.  He stammers through his discussions, barely able to keep his mouth caught up with his brain, and constantly keeps viewers questioning whether he is a prodigy or merely a lunatic.  Even with the transition of these artists from the streets to the galleries, Exit Through the Gift Shop leaves audiences questioning whether or not Guetta belongs in either place, and if he is deserving of the recognition.  Is he deserving of the recognition he has received to date?  Is he merely a hack, mimicking those who were more successful and effective before him?  Did he break the rules entering this world without paying his dues?  Or are there any rules in art to begin with?

Rating: 8/10