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“Exit through the gift shop”: the endless joke of Banksy the Trickster

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From the moment Banksy entered the world art scene, his every new appearance becomes a sensation. Although all the works by the Bristol riddle man are as public as possible, he still prefers to stay in the background. And even the main character of the only Banksy’s full-length documentary was another man. However, was he?
The Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010) documentary film tells the story of the Frenchman Thierry Guetta, who lives in Los Angeles, and who once picked up a video camera and could no longer part with it. At some point, Thierry discovered the forbidden street art, which became his obsession. For eight years, he filmed street artists at work, helped them and managed to integrate into their environment, convincing everyone that he was making a film about street art.
A still from the movie: Thierry Guetta
Guetta’s main dream was to meet the elusive Banksy, but the British artist is known to hide very well in front of everyone. Nevertheless, Thierry was lucky: when he got already completely desperate, Banksy himself arrived in Los Angeles, where he began to look for the locations to place his artwork. As Thierry knew all the city walls, he came in handy for the artist.
A still from the movie: street artist Shepard Fairey
A still from the movie: Banksy
Guetta’s only problem was that he was not making any film about street art. He simply stored hundreds of tapes with his notes and had no idea what he was going to do with them. And when his artist acquaintances had finally pressed the case, he made an absolutely unwatchable film called Life Remote Control. After this, Banksy invited Thierry to do street art himself, and Guetta was inspired by this idea. Having launched a large-scale advertising campaign, he printed a huge number of pop art works and arranged a grand exhibition, which brought him more than a million dollars.
A still from the movie: Thierry Guetta
The first run of Exit Through the Gift Shop took place at the Sundance Film Festival and, like everything connected with Banksy, the film gave rise to many conspiracy theories. The most popular one said that the whole story, including Thierry himself, was a sophisticated hoax by Banksy in collaboration with another famous street artist, Shepard Fairey, designed to lampoon the commercialization of art. It will just suffice to mention Guetta’s creative alias — Mr. Brainwash.
A still from the movie: Thierry Guetta
A still from the movie
This theory was not reasonless, certainly. The thousands of Los Angeles residents who lined up to see the secondary work of the ridiculous Frenchman with huge whiskers and buy them for a lot of money are the best confirmation of idea. As well as the nomination of the Exit… for the Oscar. Just before the opening night on Sundance, Banksy finally issued a statement that the film showed the truth, with the exception of those parts, which lacked truth. And to make the Film Academy recognize the artful trickery as a real documentary is the trademark colourful manner of Banksy.
Guetta is still painting 10 years after the film release.
Thierry and Pope Francis, 2019
Nevertheless, although the biography of Thierry Guetta seems unlikely, its details are confirmed by the public records in the Los Angeles archives, the statements of his friends, business partners and employees. Guetta even got a lawsuit for copyright infringement. What is still incomprehensible is how true his creative personality is — Mr. Brainwash. Thierry himself said: "Banksy inspired me to become an artist. After all, I became his greatest work of art."