Exit Through the Gift Shop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 September, 2010, 12:00am

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey, Banksy
Director: Banksy

Is it for real or is it a hoax? That's the question that has dominated discussion of Exit Through the Gift Shop ever since the film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. Many ask whether the subject of Banksy's documentary - Thierry Guetta, a US-based Frenchman who transforms himself from shopkeeper to guerilla art star in a matter of years - is the secretive British artist's latest media-baiting concoction.

The conspiracy theories are fuelled by evidence ranging from Guetta's seemingly underwhelming creativity - his 'documentary' on street art has been dismissed by his peers as 'unwatchable' rubbish, and he's not actually seen making any art throughout the film - to Banksy's appearance as a talking head in a film credited to himself.

Perhaps most incredible of all is Guetta's rise to fame, with 7,000 people attending the opening night of his first exhibition, a turnout driven by Guetta's canny use of Banksy's comment on his work.

But whether Exit Through the Gift Shop is a mockumentary or not is probably beside the point. Judged on its own merit, Banksy's directorial debut is an effective chronicle of street art, as Guetta hits the road to meet practitioners of the form, such as Invader, Borf, Fairey and Banksy himself. It's also a dissection of the state of the contemporary art world.

The film charts how street artists become superstars - Fairey's road from Obey stickers to the legendary Obama: Hope poster; Banksy's work auctioned by Sotheby's. Then it offers a deconstruction of how this can be done, as Guetta sells everything and sets up a factory aiming at mass production of apparently subversive art pieces done by a team of designers that he's hired.

That Guetta's achievement is made so credible is perhaps Banksy's crowning achievement, a triumph in revealing the bizarre world we're living in where the line of authenticity and fiction is so blurred that one can almost pull off any trick as long as it fits with the laws of capitalist society.

Never mind the title: Exit Through the Gift Shop shows there's no exit for anyone today, because the world's just one large gift shop that one can't easily get out of.

Extras: deleted scenes, a 'lawyer's edit' of Guetta's documentary Life Remote Control, Banksy's short film B Movie, stickers and a pair of 'perfectly useless' 2-D paper-made glasses.