I recently posted two stories about Exit Through the Gift Shop , a documentary/comedy by Banksy, which claims to be a true story about a star-struck street art fan with a video camera, who becomes transformed into an “artist” himself through the magic of Banksy.
I laid bare my doubts about the integrity of the storyline in the movie: I speculated that it contained a clever mixture of truth and fiction which could not easily be teased out. I also said that, no matter the degree of fiction, the basic message is that art buyers exit through the gift shop — they buy in to a genre or a new thing or provenance and what they don’t do, is look for quality, take inventory, make critical decisions.
But there is one claim I made that I regret: I stated that anyone who continues to wonder about the degree of fiction, is missing the point.
Since then, I have changed my mind. We are looking for all out artistry, aren’t we? Don’t we want to know just how much of Mr. Brainwash‘s huge LA extravaganza, Life is Beautiful, and his subsequent New York show, ICONS, were orchestrated by Banksy? And don’t we want to know how much of the Exit Through the Gift Shop story line is true and just how much ingenuity went into making the rest of the story come to life?
Don’t we want to discover a big clever net of contrivances?
A few weeks ago, I picked up on a story from Neu Black , a site that follows street art, and the art market in general, pretty well. Toshi Jones , I found, had written a story in February of 2009 discussing briefly that some Banksy Kate Moss a la Marilyn prints had failed to sell at auction. She vaguely implies that the slight may have been related to the mysteries surrounding Exit Through the Gift Shop: was the attention grabbing off-putting to buyers?
I, too, suspect as much. Banksy’s an ingenious trickster, and his knack for creating controversy worked well for him on the streets, but to art buyers, mystery means uncertainty, and uncertainty means a bad investment.
Which begs the question: could Banksy have been so naive as to think that creating a big fat rumor factory would open the art market up to his brand? That this was his goal has been one of the most persistent rumors, but it seems way too simple-minded.
Immediately following the show, a Nue Black review attracted a long string of comments that are still on-going.
A commenter who thinks like I do, Jimbo, had this to say:
“[A show like] this takes organisation and resources, resources that I doubt very much [MBW] had, but something Banksy has proved himself to have time after time.The best example of this is the Cans Festival he put on in May 2008 where he secretly flew in the world’s elite graffiti artists (first class flight allegedly) and converted an underground street below Waterloo Train Station into an massive street art exposition. MTBs expo was in June 2008, yet apparently he still found time to accept that flight to England to add some of his own work to the underground walls. (google MBW and Cans Festival).”
Jimbo may have a very silly screen name, but he’s right to think along those lines.
Soon after writing to Derek Walborn, an artist who worked with MBW on the LA show, I received a response:
“I do know that Thierry is definitely not Banksy. That was a rumor going around very briefly during production and anyone who hung out with Thierry long enough was sure to realize that there was no way it could be true. The lack of organization, the personality, etc. We spent a LOT of time with him in his studio, at his home, etc. and the idea that they are the same person is, honestly, way off the mark and again implies that Thierry is an actor or playing a character. He isn’t.”
After I pressed for a bit more information, we had the following exchange:
Walborn: I said Thierry’s personality is legit. We haven’t been discussing art.
Art Machine: “I take it that you don’t think any of the art was orchestrated by Banksy as a kind of spoof, with Thierry as the unknowing front?”
Walborn: You’re definitely asking the right questions, Cat.
I have found that people involved with MBW’s projects are reluctant to speak on the record, if they communicate at all. The shroud of secrecy begs for investigation.
Speaking off the record, an artist that I contacted through a complex string of communications, and who was associated with the LA show, finally did tell me that Theirry ”from what we could tell, was an artistic illiterate.”
An artistic illiterate.
So here’s the new story line as I see it so far:
An artistic illiterate is dissuaded from producing a perhaps too revealing documentary, and, is, instead brainwashed –through the careful orchestration of lots of funding and PR — into thinking that he is, himself, an artist — thus becoming the front for a body of work which his backers can, by sheer inuendo, take credit for, as they laugh their asses off.
But is there any money in it? Did Banksy bank on the wrong scheme? We shall see.
OPINION | Mr. Brainwash: Ce n’est pas un Banksy