Thierry Guetta & Banksy’s film: Exit through the gift shop.Posted: May 13, 2010
[Film spoiler alert]
Amended March 30, 2011.
I’ve since thought about this film a good deal and have decided most of MBW’s work is largely rubbish. As for Banksy and Shepard Fairey, the work has already lost its novelty for me. Although some of MBW’s works are clever derivative pieces, like the Campbell’s soup spray paint can, they are really nothing I should have bothered to blog about at length. The film however, I grant is well-done and significant. I did feel for MBW when seeing the film and as stated below, when I saw the film that evening, I felt people’s blog comments about MBW using the village idiot metaphor were rather cruel. His manic persistence to shoot film is probably something similar to what a lot of artists struggle with; the accumulation of ideas without the capacity to bring closure to a project. [That could be another blog post for discussion... how many projects have you left undone?]
Original post on May 13, 2010:
I have been reading comments on blogs that seem to think that Thierry Guetta’s work aka “Mr. Brainwash” is a pile of crap and that Guetta is some kind of village idiot whose work is merely copy-cat art. I disagree.
I was in the afterglow of this brilliantly entertaining “mock-doc” film [one writer called it "pseudo-documentary" which I don't believe it to be... its just too genuine to be a wholly fabricated fake, however many short-cuts and shots from other non-Guetta media may have been used.] and I wondered what to think of Guetta and his artwork as I walked around the AMC Forum in Montreal; the former stomping groups of the Montreal Canadiens, with fans abuzz by tonight’s victory. I was simply, perhaps naively, charmed by Guetta’s obsessive focus and compulsive videotaping of street artists, and his subsequent street art work and debut.
The film left me feeling more fascinated by Guetta than Banksy, I suppose since I had already seen most of the Banksy work presented in the film and understand a bit about what seems to be Banksy’s educated background. Its the very unpredictability of that makes Guetta’s life and work seems so much more raw, contemporary, streetwise and real; regardless of his derivative appropriation. He just does the work because he has to, compelled to, without apparent forethought. [I don't need to summarize the film, you can read the links to major publications below if you want that.] And frankly, after looking at more of Guetta’s work online, some of it is really quite brilliant, in dialogue with our own contemporary vapidity; he works in sincere gullibility with an overall wink at humorous genius.
Its true that Banksy’s approach to the Guetta he befriends is something of a send up of “Mr. Brainwash”, but in the end Guetta manages to produce artwork that people want, which people feel they understand using direct pop-cultural images simple enough for the street to get and be part of. His first opening show is constructed with Wizard-of-Oz-like artifice and Guetta manages to sell a million dollars worth of work in his first show with “…tons of work.”
For those who think Guetta just works off the backs of other artists who have spent years learning their craft, I see it differently. Guetta is a genius at getting his friends/accomplices to rally around him with which to market and manipulate images, however banal some may be. He seems to know how to “con” the public enough to give them images they want. Yes, he speaks and works compulsively and comes off as a village idiot, but don’t forget that the village idiot used to be considered someone with prophetic powers. His ingenuousness and indifference to what critics think is his strength. He is an outsider making it inside, a homespun everyman scanning through his Google images as his resource.
Give Guetta some credit. He had the focus and guts to follow Shepard Fairey, and all the others around with the camera, and then befriend Banksy, winning his trust. No small achievement in itself… he spent years observing and participating in the sociological process of street art, so in a way, he has paid his dues.
MBW aka Mr. Brainwash is there, he made it, and will leave his mark. I don’t think he will go away anytime soon. Its the guilelessness of it, and if anything, in the long run, its completely ironic that the film makes Banksy and others looks like snobs and asses for making Guetta seem somewhat like the village idiot…
“Mr. Brainwash is a force of nature. He’s a phenomenon. And I don’t mean that in a good way,” Banksy says of his former assistant as he prepares for his first exhibition in Los Angeles.
Banksy says of Mr. Guetta: “Maybe it means art is a bit of a joke.” Nonetheless, Thierry Guetta already knew how to take the clothing biz and make $5000 of “designer” clothes out of a $50 bundle of leftovers. Guetta is no idiot. He is full of contradictions, attention-deficient but focused on a overall vision. Credit where its due, as a naively impressionable genius, Guetta works raw, without all the baggage of art history to weigh him down. I’m looking forward to see what he can bring forward. Wink or no wink.