Sunday, January 02, 2011

'Exit Through The Gift Shop' ...

My friend Bruce points me toward some really interesting fare.

Last night, I watched "Exit Through the Gift Shop," his latest suggestion.

If you're a Netflixer, you can watch it here, now or put the DVD in your queue. If you're not a Netflixer, you can find it elsewhere, I'm sure.

Initially, it appears to be a documentary about street artists, some of whom have become much more known in the art world, such as Banksy, who directed this film, and Shepard Fairey, who is most known these days for creating the iconic Obama "Hope" poster (and subsequently being sued by the AP for misappropriating the photograph that serves as the basis for the art). But in the end, it centers on Thierry Guetta, who begins the documentary as the documenter but becomes the documented. (Or maybe he doesn't. Is the film legit or a hoax? Fairey insists that it's not. Others say otherwise. Another interesting layer to the whole project.)

It's a fascinating film, on a micro level for its examination of street artists and a culture most people observe with no knowledge of what's behind it, but more so on a macro level for the questions it raises about art and what constitutes art, and the complexities of greed, ego, and jealousy.

Thierry mounts his first-ever show, a massive exhibit of his work that is literally being installed hours before the doors open to a throng of thousands who have bought into the hype of the show that he orchestrated so masterfully. He ends up selling more than $1 million worth of art.

But is all of it art? Is it art if the artist has recreated iconic Andy Warhol images, replacing Marilyn Monroe with Marilyn Manson and Leonard Nimoy and a host of others? And recreated variations on the Campbell's soup can? Why do so many buy into it? Do they appreciate it as art? Are they buying art or are they buying hype? Do they love it as art or do they think they'll profit from it later? What constitutes art? Does everything qualify as art? If not, who decides? If so, how does one assign value? Does value matter? Is the anger of the other artists in the film really jealousy? Do they resent Thierry for what they see as the demeaning of their craft or do they resent him for making a lot of money? Who deserves to call themselves an artist?

See what I mean? So many fascinating notions evolve out of this film, so many interesting discussions to be had.

I've jokingly said that my definition of art is: "If I can do it, it's not art."

But I can draw. How well I can draw is open to debate, but those who see the piece that's hanging in my mom's house are usually surprised that I drew it, if that's any metric for its artfulness. Painting, photography, sculpture? Not so much. I can paint, but not well, not by my standard. And what I snap with my little Canon digital camera isn't going to show up in any photography exhibits. If cookie dough counts as a sculpture medium, I do well on that front, but in any other capacity? Nuh uh.

Then again, I contend that I could have created this with construction paper and a pair of safety scissors.

But I didn't. Henri Matisse did, for which he's hailed as a great artist. To which I've always reacted thusly: Really?

Which brings us right back to the question, "What constitutes art?"

The answer to which is, I suppose, that it's always in the eye of the beholder.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

MWB isn't real. The show and the movie are both Banksy/Fairey pranks.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Beth said...


But real or not, the questions the film elicited are still relevant.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Anything Really Thoughtful

1:07 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

So the Matisse piece doesn't quality, then? :o )

1:18 PM  
Blogger Tom Erdman said...

I think you could make the argument that anything is art. We spend too much time in defining whether some art is more relevant than other art. Sometimes art is defined by the object, sometimes by the signature, sometimes by notoriety. But, it's still all art. The greatest piece of art in my collection is the "Jeopardy" game my daughter made for me as a gift. For me, that is priceless.

2:42 PM  

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