REVIEW: Exit through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

There's a story I once heard... or read, I don't quite recall. The details are fuzzy, but here 'goes. A nighttime custodian at a big time museum - The Louvre or The Prado, perhaps - drew a custom floorplan of the building's restrooms. Not quite a blueprint, the original image helped streamline the custodian's sanitation schedule. One shift, this man thought up a prank. He switched a less secure painting with his floorplan. The next day's reaction was not one of distress over missing art (safely stowed in a restroom), but one of awe over the new "modern masterpiece" the facility had apparently decided to showcase. Not unlike Marcel Duchamp's readymade "Fountain" put-on, the floorplan had critics and admirers baffled... but astonished. Often to find something cryptic is to find it superior to you. Enigmatic. This blue collar prank brings question to the interpretation and evaluation of art by its audience.

Is the story true? I've no idea. Does it matter? Well, I'm not concerned with its authenticity, anyway. Exit through the Gift Shop has met with much speculation over its own authenticity, and while I'm convinced its ultimate story is factual, I don't suppose my reaction would change were it revealed as hoax. Like our custodian, Gift Shop's relatively elaborate tale humorously contemplates art's true meaning, this time not only from a consumer perspective, but also from that of the (not necessarily ordaining) creator.

I think we can all relate to artistic creation to some degree. At least in the sense presented here through subject Thierry Guetta, who haphazardly documents every moment of life he has tape for. Each fleeting moment is already gone forever by the time we register it - like a temporary work of street art - but the camcorder provides an illusion of control. Even if no one ever sees them again, they are preserved in some form for better or for worse. I, nor a vast percentage of us, can say we're near as extreme as Guetta, but between camcorders, cameras, camera phones and the internet, we are constantly documenting our lives. I have a shoebox full of home videos - sixty-minute tapes of seventeen-year-old me doing flips into a pool or playing with my pet iguana... walking around Disney World after hours or watching "the guitar guy at the party" sing Green Day. My Facebook profile boasts over one thousand pictures, and that's only accounting for ones I'm tagged in. Before all this, I kept journals and sketchbooks.

Hardly any of this casual output is meritable, but my creator mentality was always "If someone discovers this someday, it will represent my life." I'll confess to occasional delusions of grandeur. For example, though I intended no profound significance recording myself leaping headlong into a swimming pool, I often hoped the videos would one day cause people to read into nonexistent meanings. If that extreme hypothetical occurs, will I then be distinct as an "artist"? Well, most probably not, especially considering a professional daredevil like Steve-O who got his start recording himself leaping headlong into... well, cement. Is this admittedly odd example's message "art is not safe"? I'm not sure. Is it Gift Shop's? Maybe.

Though not assembled too differently from other found-footage documentaries, Exit through the Gift Shop got me thinking more in-depth on a subject I already greatly enjoyed pondering. Its Palahniukian presentation of modern counterculture introduces to wider audiences the intricacies of street art while making certain questions about art in general more accessible for contemplation. Just remember to purchase a souvenir when the ride's over.

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