It was ironic when Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film, was nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year. Ironic because the documentary, by an anonymous British street artist known as Banksy, is in part about how art gets co-opted, commercialized, and sold to those who don't know it's true value. Or maybe it's about the true value of art -- and guerilla art especially. Or maybe it's an elaborate hoax, a fantastic mockumentary by a master of subversive mockery. (Banksy denies that it's a put-on. If it is, it doesn't matter. It's still a great film.)
Whatever it is, it's a funny, provocative movie that, among other things, documents the rise of street art and street artists, while telling the story of Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French immigrant in Los Angeles who starts out obsessively videotaping street artists (including Shepard Fairey, who famously created the iconic Obama "Hope" poster), and achieves fame and fortune with an insanely successful art show of his own. Guetta does it by standing on the shoulders of giants -- like Banksy -- and by vandalizing the art of others, much as street artists "vandalize" the public spaces they use as a canvas. Exit Through the Gift Shop is an exuberant, inventive, brilliant, inspired paean to the artistic underground, and a gleefully subversive poke in the eye to the art establishment by an artist who isn't afraid to bite the hands that feed him.