In order to be a successful graffiti artist you must be invisible. In order to be a successful fine artist, you must be in the public eye.
This is the contradiction that is consistently facing Banksy, arguably the most famous graffiti artist in the world. Until now, he has kept his identity tightly shrouded in secrecy. Now however, Banksy is revealing a unique kind of public face, in his high concept directorial debut, Exit Through the Gift Shop.
The plot of the film goes something like this. A man named Thierry Guetta stumbled upon the graffiti scene and subsequently started an eight-year project documenting every breath of some of the biggest graffiti artists in the world, including Shepard Fairey, Invader, and Banksy -- but the documentary was never finished. Bansky took the reins of Thierry's project and turned the lens onto the documentarian himself. The camera catches Thierry becoming an overnight L.A success story, making millions off the art world by poorly ripping off his graffiti friends.
Did this kooky story even happen? Its hard to say. Fiction or not, it feeds the audience the right amount of mystery to prolong the romance of a genre blown up by it's own ephemeral nature. It captures the fleeting life of street art and makes anyone watching it want to be there with the fascia of kids that make up the underground scene.
As the movie unfolds, the hijinks that helped mold Thierry from a hanger-on to a true artist is unbelievable and funny to watch. People laughed. To preserve an art that thrives on suave brevity, this movie provides a vicarious experience of what we usually only see glimpses of on street signs and skillfully ushers it into the mainstream art world with genius irony.
If Exit isn't a documentary -- if it is a piece of fiction dreamed up by Banksy -- then it could serve as the biggest tag of social commentary there is. Critics will deliberate if the film holds weight in the art world or the street scene, but whether Exit Through the Gift Shop's final joke is on us or not is the elephant in the room.
Some of Banksy's graffiti around New York City and the movie's trailer: