Where Fiction & Reality Blur

The Arts

I’ve been catching up on lots of movies over this freezing, snowed-in Christmas period, and one of the most intriguing is Banksy’s hilarious ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’, a documentary that purports to be about talentless Thierry Guetta, an ADD French vintage clothing store king who becomes the documentarist to the nascent guerilla street-art group, comprising artists like Shepard Fairey, Space Invader and Banksy.

Fairey subsequently found fame as the artist of the unofficial blue-and-red Obama poster, while Banksy has gone on to become highly collectable – but is Guetta who he says he is? The photographer shot millions of tapes of the artists’ activities but never ran the footage back. So when he’s challenged to assemble a film, he makes an insane scramble of images no-one will ever sit through.

Worse is to come as Guettel discovers his own inner artist and unleashes a staggering amount of terrible, derivative street art on the world, which collectors snap up.

But is Guettel for real? Because from the mid-point of the film, a creeping doubt becomes overt – that Guettel is a vehicle for ‘Pranksy’ to wind up the art world. Half the fun, after seeing the movie, is to trawl the web looking for the real Guettel. I tried to find his store and failed, and couldn’t sort out which online pieces are real or faked.

Ultimately the game is given away by one simple unavoidable fact – if Guettel was real, how come he’s not more famous than the reticent artists he filmed? Because he clearly craves attention, and would have remained on every magazine cover, as he did when he started. But perhaps he really was a hang-on borderline mad guy with a camera who got used as a vehicle to show up the shallow stupidity of the art world.

The more you dig, the less you find. Together with ‘Catfish’ (a film which also denies its fictional base), the new subgenre of the mockumentary is flying high.

2 comments on “Where Fiction & Reality Blur”

  1. Anne Hill Fernie says:

    I stumbled across Mr Guetta’s (aka ‘Mr Brainwash’) exhibition at the Opera Gallery in the N.Y Meatpacking district in September. Although fun, I thought at first it was stuff by different artists as there was no cohesive style at all. It just seemed like a pastiche of every conceptual, street etc. artist of the past 35 years. Wasn’t impressed…..

  2. Reuben says:

    There was a slight doubt while watching it ‘is this for real?’, but I only thought it was a spoof after thinking some more about it later.
    Sometimes it’s hard to tell with documentaries what’s the real deal. I lent someone at work a copy of Spinal Tap and didn’t tell him it was a spoof. He believed it to be genuine.
    Even Crumb may raise eyebrows for people who have never heard of Robert Crumb.

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