Exit through the Gift Shop is a 2010 about contemporary art, where the Frenchman Thierry Guetta is seen documenting the history of the street art movement with his camera; nevertheless, he turns this around and starts proposing himself as an artist instead. The film displays many different artists and the variations between them: technique, conception of art, ways to relate to each other, etc. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie lies in the anonymity of the artist Banksy, and Guetta’s relation to him, as it allows him to believe that he, without fame or recognition, could also be a famous artist just by putting together a grand exposition.
Banksy is the world’s premier street artist, yet his identity is unknown. He has imprinted artistic manifestations all around the world, from the West Bank (Banksy 28:41) to New York City without ever being caught or identified. He has been referenced in many newspapers worldwide causing polemic, asking, for example, “Genius with a spray can, but is it art?” (Bansky 23:33), and opened “Barely Legal, which marked the point at which street art was forzed into the spotlight” (Banksy 50:17), yet his face and name have never been revealed. Nevertheless, this isn’t just a police issue, it also implied that, at the beginning, it was impossible for Guetta to reach him, even though he had talked to almost every other street artist and was in the movement, as everyone follows his imposed rule of not divulging his contact information (Banksy 24:04).
Banksy’s anonymity allowed Guetta to believe he could be famous suddenly, without any recognition, experience or actual recognized talent. The character is presented as naïve: walking over an artist’s fresh paint (Bansky, 10:08), making an unwatchable documentary, etc. He believes that what is important for an artist is to be famous, and that art has a specific form, devoid of creativity, so he mimics the characteristics he perceives in other street artists (Bansky 56:01), copying them them, effectively becoming an artist himself, although a failed one, Mr. Brainwash (Bansky 56:35). One can surmise he asks himself a logical question: If nobody knows who Bansky is and he is a famous artist, why can’t I, being an unknown, also become a famous artist over night? This, coupled with his interpretation that Banksy is calling him to make street art (Bansky 56:39), makes him gather the money necessary to open his own art show.
It is important to note that, while Guetta does become famous, he is not respected at all in the art world. The art show that he opens, Life is Beautiful, “was nothing less than a sensation” (Bansky 1:16:33), making money even before it opened. Lines waited outside the exposition to try to make it in. Nevertheless, even one of the producers of the show says of Guetta: “frankly, he’s just kind of retarded” (Bansky, 1:15:03). Being disowned, and treated almost as a monster, by Fairey (Banksy 1:19:30), Banksy even blames him on his own not believing that everyone should make art anymore (Banksy 1:22:17).
In conclusion, Banksy’s influence over Guetta as an artist is very important. Even though the latter had been famous within the art world for being the cameraman for the street artist movement, it isn’t until he opens his own exposition that he becomes famous to a wider audience. He believes he can come out of anonymity suddenly because of Banksy’s own hidden identity. Even though he lacks talent, he believes that mimicking is all that is required for art, so, at Banksy’s perceived calling, he becomes an artist himself. Nevertheless, while he does become famous to a greater audience, the art world doesn’t respect him at all. As we can see, the art world is very complex, and not everyone has the talent to become an artist, no matter who they follow.
Exit through the Gift Shop. Dir. Banksy. Producers Distribution Agency, 2010. DVD.