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Monday, May 10, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop: An Important Film for Artists

What is art? This question has been asked for millennia. Art is a profoundly subjective experience. It is real, yet unreal, speaking directly to the viewer's emotions. Historically it has been the expression of an idea. Art has been used for propaganda purposes by kings, religious leaders, and social movements. Human lives were shaped by images before humans were generally literate; they are being shaped by images again as literacy declines.
The Surrealists changed the meaning of images; Dali's lobster telephone and Duchamp's urinal in the art gallery took objects out of context and turned them into something else. Andy Warhol repeated images endlessly until they became meaningless.
Graffiti became street art in the 1980s, largely due to the efforts of Keith Haring whose crawling men appeared on street signs and subway stations near my New York apartment during that decade (I disliked his work then and dislike it now.)
Then there were other artists such as Shepard Fairey who stuck stickers with the face of Andre the Giant all over the world (he is allegedly still doing this.) The new generation of graffiti artists printed or screened their work, which was redubbed Street Art, and used it in ironic context. Warhol's influence seemed to be strong, since many of Fairey's icons lose all meaning by repetition. (It sort of makes me wonder about the real meaning of this poster that he made for an 'obscure Senator' two years ago.)
The greatest of the street artists, and the most subtle in my opinion, is the artist who goes by the name of Banksy. Originally working only in England, Banksy has placed his artwork in hotspots such as the Wall in Gaza; Disneyland; and in a Paris Hilton Album.
But no one has (allegedly) seen Banksy' face. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is a feature film that is being sold as a documentary about Banksy. At the risk of spoilers, it is no such thing. It is a prank on the audience that asks my first questions...what is art? Who is an artist? and then adds more.... Is art meant to be free to the public? Is art a commodity to be sold? Is an artist who uses a team to assemble art pieces fair when he/she receives all credit for the work? Can art that is created by another artist be used fairly to create a new composition? (Nina Paley, creator of SITA SINGS THE BLUES, maintains that all creative work is derivative.) All artists build on what has gone before. If so, when do you stop?
The tag line for this film "In a world without rules, he broke them all", is absolutely true.
There is speculation that Banksy and Shepard Fairey are pulling the wool over our eyes with this film, that it is too contrived and convoluted to be true. It has been my experience that some of the weirdest and most contrived situations in life are real.
So I was rather disturbed by the material included on this artist. I can't say more without revealing too much about this terrific film which I will certainly recommend to all, and which I will definitely see again.
I'm not sure whether Banksy is just one person, but the onscreen Banksy definitely can be identified, sans hoodie, if you pay attention to two important hints (one visual, one textual) that are provided in the film. Animators will find it very easy.
I also choose to regard the success of this artist as part of the show. Otherwise, I and all the rest of us went into the wrong business. See for yourself. Seeing is believing. Or is it?


Pete Emslie said...

I won't be seeing this film on Banksy, as I don't want to encourage him with my moviegoing dollars. Fact is, I can't stand the guy, and I see him as no more than a punk, not an artist. By stamping his unsolicited images on buildings, usually to the chagrin of the tenants, Banksy reminds me of all those young idiots who blast their obnoxious rock and rap loudly out of their cars, as his "art" is also of the bullying, in-your-face variety.

Interestingly, there was an article
in today's Globe and Mail regarding the "art" that Banksy has recently sprayed on the walls of local Toronto buildings in order to promote his film's opening here. One business blithely painted over it, considering it no more than all the other graffiti that has shown up on their walls over the years. Banksy's admirers are aghast at such ignorance of their artistic hero, yet I am firmly on the side of the business that was hit. Who cares if this "artiste" created what his minions might consider a masterpiece on this company's wall. The fact is, the company didn't commission it and they don't want it. They consider it graffiti and an eyesore, so they're painting over it, thanks just the same. I say, good on them!

JZ said...

For my photography final I chose graffiti as my subject and the whole class got into a shouting match when this issue of is it art came up. After I read my artist's statement it seemed like most got the idea. I thought I would share it with you:

Put a pen in any child's hand, naturally, they will go to the wall. In this way, graffiti started at the birth of human consciousness. The cave wall paintings from early man each tell a story. Graffiti tells a story as well.The human culture has been identifying themselves. People stating who they are, where they were. They are not seen as artists but rather as criminals and vandals. Because graffiti involves the ego and adventure and excitement and personalization, the space is looked at in a different way, an alternate vision of the city, the texture becomes more alive. The results are modern graffiti writing.

Space is a commodity. We live in a capitalistic society therefore people with the greatest access to funds get the most amount of space. These people's own messages are in your face everyday. Advertising has become visual pollution, but since it is ingrained in our subconscious we no longer notice it and it all becomes visual litter that we don't get anything back from. Advertisers are employing graffiti tactics to promote their product, for example, on the sides of mass transit. The aesthetics that one associates with street art might be getting mainstream, but there are very few people who are out there doing street art, taking the risk, getting arrested, getting fined, having their art covered up. It takes people with a lot of dedication and persistence. Most artists don't risk their lives to do their painting.

My intent is to display the vacuum that the city creates. A spiritual vacuum, a social vacuum, and about how graffiti fills this vacuum with beauty. My purpose was to hint at the subtle display of disobedience that comes from graffiti rebelling against the idea that one must only go to art school and only hang one's artwork in this designated spot. If there is no rebellion in our society, we would be stagnant. My photos aim to communicate that there is no point in having a voice or having a concept or idea if you can't disseminate it.

Nancy said...

I really enjoy Banksy's work, but can see Peter's viewpoint..if he's painting private property, it's within the owner's right to paint it over.
What I like about Banksy is that he often uses areas that were hideous or ignored, and makes them interesting. I also like his museum pranks, since they are witty commentary and don't deface anything. His stone age shopping cart hunters are now part of the permanent collection of the British Museum.

nickwatson said...

I can agree with some of the logic here but I also have noticed that a lot of the imagery left on the walls by Banksy as he swept through Toronto, store owners knew nothing about him. In most cases it was too late and his graffiti was covered up, several instances the store/property owners were notified and the piece was then protected with plexiglass or taken down if possible. His art is just as relevant as D.Hirst putting a shark in a tank of Formaldehyde,it creates discussion .