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Exit Through The Gift Shop

Banksy's new documentary on Mr. Brainwash, Shepard Fairey and the state of street art

by Phuong-Cac Nguyen in Culture on 09 April 2010

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Humorous and provocative, the much-anticipated film Exit Through the Gift Shop by the U.K.'s leading street artist Banksy is impressively on par with his captivating artworks. After its surprise premiere at Sundance last year, the well-edited movie opens in select cities across the U.S. on 16 April 2010.

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Don't expect to watch a revelatory documentary on the elusive British artist. Instead, the film revolves around French-born L.A. resident Thierry Guetta, or Mr. Brainwash— an obsessive vintage store owner whose preoccupation with filming street artists in the late '90s led him to a chance friendship with Banksy through the equally legendary street artist Shepard Fairey.

In an exclusive interview Fairey discussed with CH how his relationship with Guetta has changed since his breakthrough show in L.A., which Fairey subsequently criticized. "I think it's important to be honest, because I know he respects me and I'm not just a hater. I think he has potential to evolve into a good artist if he takes some of this constructive criticism to heart. He came out with a big bang without the same sort of period of gestation that other artists have. It's not an open and closed thing. Everyone has the potential to evolve if they work at it."

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Much of the film's footage comes from Guetta, who was planning on creating his own documentary chronicling the history of graffiti. From accompanying Fairey and Guetta's cousin Space Invader as they put up their pieces in the middle of the night to becoming Banksy's right-hand man in L.A. and helping him pull off the infamous stunt at Disneyland, Guetta filmed it all. When Banksy saw the finished film, however, he took all 10,000 hours of footage, re-edited it, and shifted the focus on Guetta himself.

In his typical extreme style, Guetta set about mounting a show as loud and hyped—if not more, even—than Banksy's own "Barely Legal" in the abandoned CBS Studios in L.A. in 2008, propelling him into the spotlight overnight.

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Most of the film's commentary is by Fairey and Banksy himself, who discuss Guetta's artistic merit in a dry manner. Without spoiling the ending, we will tell you that there is a twisted conclusion about street art as a whole that will have you contemplating the medium for days.

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Fairey, whose new show "May Day" opens at Deitch Projects 1 May 2010, explains "People now look at street art as a legitimate form of expression and a good way to get attention. Even if the artwork is pointless, the medium is still a pretty powerful message."

Los Angeles, NYC, San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto will see the film first, followed by Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Seattle on 23 April 2010. Check banksyfilm.com for dates in other cities.

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