This Man is Either Crazed or a Commercializing Genius

The other night I sat down and watched Exit Through the Gift Shop.  For those who don’t know about this documentary, it is about an eccentric Frenchman Thierry Guetta, a self-proclaimed filmmaker who starts filming known street artists such as Shephard Fairey, Invader, and the illusive Londoner, Banksy.  Basically this dude goes in and starts filming all these street artists as they do their thing, all under the pretense that he is making a documentary.  In reality Thierry is a troubled hoarder who has no intention of editing his tapes into anything, until he tracks down Banksy.  After filming the super secretive artist for some time, Banksy basically tells Thierry its time to start putting the footage together.  What results is a make-me-want-to-vomit hour and a half of noise and fast moving frames, which Bansky describes as utter crap (well not in those words but they sound british and are a perfect way to describe Thierry’s “finished” film).  So having watched the whole 90 mintues (Banksy finishes it, not me) he suggests that Thierry should turn the camera around and start filming himself as a street artist.  Up until this point Thierry’s only experience in this art form were his observations of the other artists.  And boy does he run with it.  Thierry hires on a team of young artists to manufacture more than 200 works, under his supervision and direction, for a show that he plans to produce in LA.  and what happens, well this completely unknown street artist, Mr. Brainwash becomes and overnight sensation selling more than $1,000,000 on opening night.

This is where I become absolutely convinced that this man is completely and utterly crazed.  Well maybe that revelation came about 30 minutes prior to “Opening Night,” regadless he’s a complete loon.  Not a single work of art is an original creation.  You can pretty much pinpoint elements of each street artist he followed along with other pop-art greats like Warhol.  But for SOME reason, LA Weekly picked up the story and the line for his opening was out the door, around the corner, and pretty much all the way to Disneyland.  How he did it is just amazing.  But it just goes to show you that the power of the press and the power of buzz is astronomical.  This man put on a 2o0 piece show all of which was created in less that a year ( at least that seemed to be the time frame between becoming an artist and opening his first show).  His art; nothing special. His originality; doesn’t exist.  So what was it about his work that had so many people interested, and not only interested but spending lots of money on it.

There are two questions I asked myself once the film was finished. Well actually there were a lot of questions I asked myself, but two main ones.  The first was about the level of authenticity in regards to his work?  The second was just how crazy this man was? and then there was another question, a third question that would perhaps explain everything. Did Thierry know exactly what he was doing the whole time? which would indicate that he was indeed a genius.  I still think he was completely mad but we will humor the third question anyway.

Question #1
How authentic was Thierry Guetta’s work

I have always taken issue with authenticity with regards to art.  And yes I realize this is a completely objective question, but I also believe that there is an intrinsic authenticity that comes from an artists belief in the works that he is creating.  That there is something new and innovative being created, and that even if you are using elements reminiscent of others work you do it in your own way.  I just didn’t get this from Thierry.  It was more like he was simply taking other peoples ideas and mass producing them.  I don’t know, what do you guys think?  Perhaps he was just so crazy that he did think they were original and innovative works.  Who knows

Question #2
Just how crazy is Thierry Guetta?

I think pretty crazy.  The film sort of goes into how he lost his mother at a young age and took to documenting every aspect of his life, or more accurately the things that he saw in his daily life.  and he kept every tape he filmed, with no intention of ever really looking at them again, but they were there.  Typical hoarder syndrome.  He’s also just a bit loony.  He hires a team of young kids to do most of his prints, explains them as if they are completely original concepts, and throws a whole lot of money into getting a warehouse full of his work ready for his one man exhibition  As he embarks on his journey towards becoming a successful street artist, he truly does believe that what he is doing is new, which it is not.  The man is just crazed.

which brings us to Question #3
Is this actually the work of a marketing genius?

Maybe it’s all an act.  The eccentricity of his persona, the stumbling into this world of street art and subsequently becoming a street artist himself.  Perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing the whole time.  He began seeking out the approachable street artists at the beginning of his filming, but utlimately he wanted to track down Bansky and do what no other film-maker had been able to do before, and that was to catch him in action.  He witnessed the techniques of each and every one of these artists, from the printing of their works, to the billboard like application.  He had an insiders look on exactly what it took to become a street art sensation.  And then what did he do, he went back to LA and did it all.  Paralleling each of the artists he filmed, and even using their subject matters in his works.  Maybe he saw the potential to capitalize on this market, on a scale that the others had not yet reached (the film does show some of Banksy’s works selling at Sotheby’s but I’m a little fuzzy on the time frame, and regardless that was happening in England not in the US).  Banksy had also opened a show in the US that was very well received and had some hollywood names in attendance.  It seemed that Thierry took Banksy’s success and tried to replicate it, and then amazingly succeeded.  You have to watch the exhibitions opening and the reactions of the patrons, you can’t help but laugh.  These people oggling over this street artist that had emerged pretty much overnight, speaking like what he did meant something important.  But Madonna had him do the cover art for her last album so he clearly did something right, or depending on your opinions perhaps something wrong.  So was he a genius or just your average run of the mill crazer?  I’ll let you be the judge

In any case it is an interesting analysis of art and how we look at it, and what can become sensationalized in a very short period of time.  How even when you go about it the “wrong way” you can still have a successful career, or 15 minutes.  Banksy makes a good point, and this is not verbatim because I just can’t remember exactly what he said.  But basically he commented on the fact that Thierry missed all of the steps and life experiences that comes with honing your craft and exploring new ideas and coming to artistic revelations within yourself.  He skipped over all of that and went straight into being an artist.  Sometimes I think those steps are equally as important to one’s personal growth as well as artistic growth.

But he made it work, and now people can’t get enough of Mr. Brainwash


2 thoughts on “This Man is Either Crazed or a Commercializing Genius

  1. It’s definitely gutsy to take on this film, which generally has received auto-pilot accolades from the film critic establishment. Where you might overstep is your perception that the portrayal is any kind of advocacy or thesis; whereas, the medium itself of documentary cinema equates to the practice of faithful portrayal that behaves (at its best) agnostically to the questions you are asking. The aim is just to show interesting people, what-the-hell-were-they-thinking, and so forth.

    But your questions feel right. Similarly, another documentary film on the Academy’s short-list this year is “Waste Land” which portrayed an artist swooping down upon the downtrodden and raising questions of exploitation for the sake of arguable art, and for the ultimate perpetuation of artistic careers (which equals wealth). As a documentary filmmaker trying to build my own body of work, I found “Waste Land” utterly false and embarrassing. But “Exit Through the Gift Shop” — fascinating.

    1. I agree with you in that I don’t think the aim of the documentary was to assume anything about Thierry Guetta and the quality or authenticity of his work, but being a current student and pretty much in a critical mind-set anyway I couldn’t help but view the film in these ways. My roommate watched the film after I did and I asked him what he thought of it. His response ” It was good, I had no idea about any of it so it was interesting to learn about it.” Which I think for most people is probably the reception. I did actually enjoy Exit and too found it fascninating, watching the man’s evolution from documenting the street artists to becoming one himself. I’m just not convinced that what he actually produced was worth what everyone thought it was, but again its all objective. I’ve never been a fan of Duchamp but he still exemplifies a turning point in artistic movements.

      I’ve heard of Waste Land but haven’t seen it yet, I’ll have to add it to the queue.

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