Sunday, 28 February 2010

the Death of (Street ) Art

Hi-jacking Bookcrossing once more to go off-topic...

or... Don't Believe the Hype

So we saw the Banksy film in Leake Street yesterday. It was very entertaining. It was only about half an hour later when the penny finally dropped... Of course! The whole thing was a fiction, not a documentary – a mockumentary, if you will. It was a scam, a tease, Banksy's biggest and best, an elaborate jape satirising the cupidity of the art market and the general public's lack of discrimination.

You're even given a warning before the film itself starts, in the form of a montage of old 70s ads cut together to say “Don't Buy This Nonsense.” But we still fall for it, though it's full of clues. The 'greatest street art film that never got made', for example, is a framing device, a red herring designed to throw you off track. Or the title itself - when you're experiencing art in a museum or gallery setting these days, you're encouraged to consume and spend at the same time. Art getting consumed by commerce.

Basically, this is the plot – the apparently na├»ve and engaging character of Thierry Guetta gets an in to the world of street artists, following them with his movie camera and obtaining an apprenticeship in the art of street art, until he decides he'll become an artist himself. What does he learn?

1.Plunder art history and pop culture for images that people already know, so it triggers an immediate familiarity and response in the viewer.
2.Use modern technology to copy it a million times.
3.Make it big. Very big.
4.Plaster it everywhere, to saturation point.
5.Name drop/network.
6.Get media coverage.

Voila! Instant fame and fortune. No need for ideas, aesthetics, craft or talent. You have arrived as an artist.

I don't mean that Thierry Guetta is not a real person (though his comedy persona reminded me a lot of Andy Kaufmann in Taxi), or a real cousin of Space Invader, or mate of Banksy. But they might have cooked up his exhibition of horrendous, eye-watering, breath-takingly banal art together, just to see how far they could take it. AND IT WORKED.

He made a million dollars from his show in LA, and the run was extended from 6 days to 3 months. Suckered... But this film exposes the mechanism by which street artists become famous and galleries make their money. The art market will happily collude in the hype, because this is how it makes money. Exit Through the Gift Shop is like The Art Bubble crossed with Nat Tate crossed with, um, Spinal Tap, or maybe Borat. Anything that blurs the line between reality and fiction. But there's real anger driving this satire.

Is it unlikely that Banksy would go so far to make a point? Maybe. The production company is called Paranoid Pictures, after all. But check out the installation in the entrance way – graffitti sanitised and made toothless and powerless by the approval of the establishment.


  1. It's all a bit KLF, isn't it?

  2. It is. Funny you should mention them - seen recently on the streets of Shoreditch: