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Exit Through the Gift Shop, Directed by Banksy

Paranoid Pictures, April 16, 2010 (US)

Starring: Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Invader, and André


He said he knew Banksy, indirectly. Said he was a friend of a friend (FOAF, for short). I didn’t believe him at first. Friend of a friend, yeah right. FOAF, he said again. I laughed. No, seriously, FOAF. To preserve his anonymity, I had to agree to call him FOAF, he said, and in exchange he would happily deliver his version of the truth.

FOAF it was.

To start, he talked a lot about the art. He was obviously a fan of the street artists and made no secret of his love for the work of Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and Invader.

He also was especially attached to the ideas about the consumption of art that were brought up in Banksy’s film. He added his own interpretation. He said, With no end to the possibilities available at our fingertips today—online stores and all the streaming—art is being consumed and regurgitated like never before. Everything is real time easy access. Whatever you wanted, baby! One-Click on Amazon. (This thought really excited him because he said it two more times.) One-Click on Amazon, One-Click on Amazon. Paintings too. He mentioned as just one of the many places you could go and grab yourself a cheap copy of a favorite painting. Like the ones in museum gift shops.

Followed by a silly wink.

He took a drag from his cigarette and then asked me what I thought about the importance of staying power. He asked me if I thought that art needed to be something permanent that lives on and is well-preserved like the pieces in museums or private collections. Do we extract deeper meaning by making the art congruently alive in ourselves … or does it exist to serve more transient, disposable needs? Yes, he was really on a roll now, eyes all ablaze. Before I had the chance to answer (or even decide if I was even following him at all), he continued, firing away. Clearly, I was easy prey. It was amateur hour, interviewer-turned-interviewee.

He then continued what had clearly turned into a diatribe. Is art just a fashion accessory?

I laughed at the barrage. Not that it stopped him.

Projectors, he said. An assemblage of things meant to reflect the images of ourselves that we want to portray. In this way, the value of our personal collections becomes incalculable.

When he finally gave momentary pause to the rapid-fire delivery of his litany of thoughts about Bansky’s film, I figured that this might be my only shot. And so I asked about the elephant in the room. I caught him off-guard at first sneaking into it by bringing up James Frey and then Catfish. And then the story about the balloon boy. How I thought that hoaxes were clearly in vogue.

He laughed at first but then he seemed annoyed before he finally slammed the door altogether by responding that he didn’t think that it mattered whether the film was a hoax or not and that it was silly to even bring it up.

He asked me if I liked the film.

This route of following a question with a question had worked so nicely for him so I gave it a try myself. What if I told you that I thought Exit Through the Gift Shop was one of last year’s top 10 films?

An easy volley back: Well, did you?

Our conversation seemed to take a different turn from there, and not surprisingly, in a direction I had not intended for any of this to go at all.

I was happy to have spent the afternoon with FOAF. It was a pleasure. He was a pleasure. When he walked down the hallway, I was disappointed that our conversation had ended.

But it didn’t. For whatever reason it was then that he paused before exiting down the stairs.

He looked back at me and asked, Wasn’t it obvious?