Banksy at the movies: Part I

Note from RJ: The following post by Alison Young was originally published on her blog, Images to Live By. We at Vandalog would like to thank Alison for kindly allowing us to republish it here, along with part II of the review (coming tomorrow).

I’m in New York City right now, and last night I attended a preview screening of Banksy’s film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film is being released in a number of US cities from April 16th and if you click here you can find a list of release dates, cities and theaters. (If you’re reading this in Britain, the film’s been out for a few weeks; if you’re reading this in Australia, be patient a little longer because the film will be released there in early June.)

Given the intense interest in Banksy as an artist and in the mystery of his identity, it’s inevitable that this film will attract a lot of attention. What’s as interesting as the movie itself is the range of responses that people are having to the film. Among those who’ve seen it so far, people speak positively of the film (as they should, since it’s a highly enjoyable documentary), but they also seem, first of all, surprised that it is more about Mr Brainwash (aka MBW aka Thierry Guetta) than it is about Banksy; and, second, disappointed that, because the film is more about Mr Brainwash, Banksy doesn’t reveal much of himself in the movie.

Let’s start with the first of those reactions, that the film’s not ‘about’ Banksy, which certainly raises the question of what the film is about. Well, the film operates on many different levels, and one of its main ones is the story of how street art took off, from being something with an intense local significance which was shared through the networks of the global street art community for the enjoyment of those who practice or appreciate street art, to became an entrenched part of the mainstream art world, whereby paintings (and artists) are commodified for profit.

To tell that story, the film focuses on Thierry Guetta’s transformation from amateur film-maker into artworld succes du jour, as a means of demonstrating both the possibilities open to anyone with the will to put up art and the (slightly frightening) logical consequences of those possibilities (for example, having people queueing for hours to get into your art show, simply because they’ve been told by the media that your art is important).

The film treads a clever and careful line between condoning and critiquing the commercialization of street art, as its embodied in Guetta’s transformation: it really is left up to the viewer to work out where you stand on the issue. In some ways, the film seems to be criticizing the people who have bought Mr Brainwash’s work for vast sums of money and who have contributed to his art world stardom, but, then again, isn’t this the same art world that has made stars of Shepard Fairey and Banksy and Blek le Rat? If we want to critique the art world, it must be a critique that can specify why Mr Brainwash’s stardom is problematic when that of the others is not.

So: how do we think through that problem? Is it because Mr Brainwash doesn’t make all of his art himself? Neither does Shepard Fairey nowadays, nor Banksy (both of whom have assistants – and we see some of Banksy’s assistants at work in the film), and neither does Jeff Koons, for that matter. Is it because Mr Brainwash’s work is derivative (his work repeats many of the devices used by Andy Warhol, Banksy, Fairey, Nick Walker, Blek…)? Well, that might be a better founded criticism, but it still requires us to think through its implications: each of those artists borrow from other artists and art movements, re-presenting certain tropes in order to create a new art idiom. Perhaps Mr Brainwash’s endless borrowing (what some would even call plagiarism) from the borrowers lacks aesthetic merit because it does nothing new – no new idiom emerges from his pillaging of pop culture and street art.

At any rate, I think these issues form the heart of what the film is about – and I’d back this up by referring you to the movie’s title. By calling his film ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop‘, Banksy is both having a sly dig at museum culture, which often cynically seeks to extract more money from visitors after they have viewed an exhibit, but he is also pointing out to us the direction that street art may be heading in, now that its commercialization is so advanced – the only ‘exit’ is to find a way through the endless consumption offered to us as a poor substitute for the art itself.

Another new Banksy in LA

As predicted yesterday, Banksy wasn’t going to stop at painting one spot in LA. Here’s what appears to be LA Banksy #2. I wasn’t blown away by yesterday’s stencil, but I love this. It’s another one of Banksy’s artworks about kids playing despite interference from the adult world, a series he’s been working on for years (perhaps most notably with his recent No Ball Games print and street piece in London).

Photos by Sonja Teri (

Banksy news update

I am definitely behind on writing about Banksy news. So here’s a bit of what’s been going on in the Banksy world:

  • The distribution strategy for the US release of Exit Through The Gift Shop is pretty unique. The Wrap has more details, but basically, Banksy’s got a distribution company devoted entirely to his film, and they’ll be releasing the film city-by-city (leaving open the possibility of Banksy doing some street work across the USA? Maybe…).
  • There’s a new 5-minute teaser of the film available on YouTube. It includes a slight spoiler by giving away the plot, but if you’re reading Vandalog, you probably know the plot already anyway. Either way, you have to watch the bit at 0:59 where the guy is getting chased by cops. Those parkour guys ain’t got nothing on graff writers. Check it out:

  • And finally there’s the updates on the Banksy versus Robbo feud. Somebody, maybe Banksy, has struck back at Robbo on Regents Canal. This is really getting pretty boring for me, and I’m pretty sure these latest modifications are just by some random activist and not Banksy (which, admittedly might make things a bit more interesting, but they still look lame). Graffoto has photos and their take on the story.

Exit Through The Gift Shop headed to the USA

My best friends are in town for a few days from New York, so I thought I’d take them to see Exit Through The Gift Shop last night. Turns out, we went to High Roller Society for James Jessop’s show there (very cool by the way) and missed the evening screening of the film in Soho. Of course, my friends are I were now worried that they wouldn’t be able to see the film until a potential DVD release. But I’ve just heard some great news: Exit Through The Gift Shop will be opening in select cities in the USA from April 16th. The first three cities are New York City, LA and San Fransisco. The film will start showing in more cities across the country in the following four weeks.

The latest Banksy: art or advert

Note from RJ: The following is a guest post by Jordan Seiler of Pubic Ad Campaign. The opinions are entirely his own, but I did ask him to write this post. I was asking myself the same questions that Jordan has considered, and I knew that he could provide a more intelligent analysis of the situation than I’m able.

Is this new Banksy Street Art or advertising, and does it even matter when it manipulates the public and negatively affects people’s relationships to the streets that surround them?

It is my contention that Street Art’s positive affect on the viewer and therefore the public in general is directly related to the producer’s intent to manipulate for self-interest. For pedestrians, the appropriation of public space by advertisers and artists is an interruption to the normal architecture of the city. When that interruption has no clear expectation of the viewer, the work becomes a point of dialogue and conversation between two unknown parties. It is as if a gift has been left behind to be appreciated or forgotten according to the viewer’s discretion. When that interruption is motivated by self-promotion, as in the case of advertising, this dialogue becomes a monologue that demands the viewer recognize a specific person, product, or thing. It would seem the intention of the imagery put in our public spaces can create two very different reactions in the viewer to the space itself.

Photo by caruba

Banksy is a hard nut to crack. His work very successfully uses the street to do what good Street Art always does, create moments of interaction and dialogue between public individuals where once a barren emptiness stood. And yet I often find myself wanting give him shit for some of the stunts he pulls (for example the above rat painted by Colossal Media) because they ride a thin line between being good street art and the work of someone with money to burn and a staff to pull off his antics. For me, having someone else do your work for you seems too close to advertising and therefore a manipulative abuse of public space. But this is clearly my personal opinion. As the Banksy machine grows in size and scope, the line he walks becomes ever more treacherous as possibilities to taint his street credibility multiply. The upcoming release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, and its subsequent promotion on Portabello Road in London, is a good example of this thin line we expect Banksy to carefully navigate. More importantly, it provides us with some insight into when street art has abandoned its initial interest in creating dialogue in favor of an outright promotion of the artist, and how that affects the public.

Photo by RomanyWG

I was recently made aware of the above “advertisement” on Portabello Road in Notting Hill. It seems to be the work of Banksy, or his PR firm, and promotes the upcoming release of his new documentary film. What stood in this location before the infamous vandal got his hands on it was a more traditional advertisement. To me this reinforces the notion that indeed Banksy has started advertising for himself. If so, this is an interesting juxtaposition to earlier works attributed to Banksy, which include this YouTube anti-advertising piece done over a blank advertising frame. Although Banksy may not be at work in this video, writing “The joy of not being sold anything” on a billboard is something we could expect out of an artist who describes his relationship to outdoor advertising like this:

Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It’s yours to take, re-arrange, and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
– Banksy in his book “Cut It Out”

This advertisement makes me want to get up there and buff it, a reaction against this piece and how it uses public space. One could argue that Banksy has crossed a line here by using public space for outright promotion instead of artistic practices and that this should affect how people see his work. Some would say that this line is dependent on whether or not Banksy has paid for this space or not. If he has rented the billboard, then he is simply promoting his personal agenda by buying public space, which seems counter intuitive to Banksy’s interests. If he has not rented the space and this appropriation of advertising real estate was done without permission in typical street art fashion, then is he simply continuing a long history of public appropriation?

Whether or not this Banksy piece is good or bad, art or advertising, tainted by the hypocrisy of advertising for himself using street art, or bettered by his wholesale appropriation of the public for his own means, is open for debate. To me the answer to the argument lies in the larger question of how we utilize public space productively so that our artwork creates more interactions and public relationships, instead of separations and points of friction.

The notion of intention as it is applied to artists and advertisers’ self interest when appropriating the public environment might reveal how the public receives the work and what benefits the work might have for the public at large. As I said before, both of these visual forms in public are interruptions, and maybe even distractions, so they have a serious affect on the way the public experiences its space. That said there are four examples of intention that create reactions with varying degrees of animosity or endearment for the viewer. These examples apply directly to advertising and art and I believe explain how visual works can affect the public’s feelings of separation or connectedness to public spaces.

  1. If someone intends to distract you for their own purposes, they are manipulating you and your relationship is one of conflict.
  2. If someone distracts you for their own purposes without intending to do so, you are upset but will generally not hold them responsible in the same way.
  3. If someone interrupts your day for the sake of pure communication without intending to do so, you might appreciate their action but not commend them for it.
  4. If someone intends to interrupt your day for the sake of pure communication it may endear you to them, developing a relationship through your appreciation.

So Advertisement, intending to distract you for its own purposes, creates a conflicted interaction where the viewer recoils from an environment that is manipulative. Good Street Art, with an interest in dialogue and two way communication, builds relationships by integrating the viewer into his or her experience of public space. Banksy’s traditional street work, intending to interrupt your day for the sake of communication is therefore experienced as a positive use of public space and leaves the viewer happy about his or her serendipitous run in. Alternatively, Banksy’s use of public space to promote his upcoming movie, whether intending to or not, is a use of public space for self-interest and therefore manipulative to the viewer.  Whether or not this is advertising or Street Art is really not the question so much as is this a poor use of the public environment by an artist whose long history or work should have taught him better? To someone who greatly appreciates Banksy’s Street Art this image tarnishes the shine on much of his work. For someone who is unfamiliar with the artist it is just another image on the wall repeating a self-interested meme.

Photos by caruba and RomanyWG

Exit Through The Gift Shop review and spoilers

Photo by Ian Cox

On Tuesday evening, I had the chance to see Banksy’s film Exit Through The Gift Shop (in cinemas March 5th) at the pop-up cinema he has put together in the tunnels next to Leake Street (where he held Cans Festival). It was an experience that I’ll never forget.

Outside the entrance, Banksy has painted a red carpet onto the street. Inside, it’s like a mini-exhibition. A mix of new and old works, the highlight for me was the “Paranoid Pictures” logo which has been stenciled onto one of the walls. Or maybe it was the animatronics from Banksy’s Pet Store show. It’s tough to say. But the art got everybody in the mood to watch what we’d been invited there for: something that involved Banksy, a video camera and Mr. Brainwash. Beyond that, most of us were in the dark as to what exactly was going to be shown.

Here’s the spoiler-free review:

Exit Through The Gift Shop is not going to be the Subway Art of street art (Beautiful Losers and Bomb It have already attempted that anyways…), and it’s not trying to be. It’s not “The Banksy Movie” either. And I think that’s going to disappoint a few people. But if you’re a regular reader of Vandalog, you probably like street art, not just Banksy. Exit Through The Gift Shop is a film that you’ll enjoy.

The film is a documentary that comes across as a mockumentary. I’ve heard people plenty of people compare it to Spinal Tap or Borat. But everything in Exit Through The Gift Shop is more or less true. Of course, I’m sure certain half-truths are told, but it’s about as factual as you can get when it comes to talking about anonymous artists. The important thing here is that all the characters are real people, and the events on film actually happened and were unscripted, so that seems real enough to me.

There’s a line every five minutes that might be quoted by street art fans for years to come: Some of them are funny, some are poignant and some are depressing. The whole film is mixture of comedy, drama and tragedy, but every angle will be compelling to street art fans.

The big problem though, is that I just can’t imagine telling my friends who don’t like art or film to check out the movie. It’s not like Spellbound or (in my opinion, not that of my friends who stopped talking to me after a certain movie night…) Helvetica; if you don’t like street art (or at least art or documentary films in general), you may just be left confused and bewildered by the whole thing. I suppose that’s the point, but last time I checked, Banksy’s work isn’t supposed to confuse people, it’s meant to be clear, direct, funny and hopefully provocative.

And where the film could have most interested audiences outside the street art world, examining how money and marketing plays a role in the art market, Exit Through The Gift Shop hints at these issues, but falls short of actually confronting the subject head on, leaving the audience to consider the consequences. While people certainly are smart enough to see what’s going on and figure these things out for themselves, I think Banksy could have been a bit more direct about the whole thing.

Perhaps the film’s greatest flaw is that it ends on more of a decidedly bleak pop than a spectacular bang or even just a hopeful note of any sort.

Minor issues aside, most street art fans will absolutely love this film. It is hilarious, has behind-the-scenes footage of Banksy and other great street artists at work and tells a story that needs to be told. I can’t say much more without spoiling the plot.

Okay, and now for a spoiler after the jump… Continue reading “Exit Through The Gift Shop review and spoilers”

More Banksy film news

Hahaha, I thought I’d only have to post one thing abut Exit Through The Gift Shop today. Of course, as soon as the journalists who were at the press screening got back to their desks, news about the film and the screenings started popping up all over the web.

Esquire Magazine has the most interesting article so far:

This morning, Esquire was invited to a preview screening of Exit Through The Gift Shop, the new documentary by Banksy. It took place in a temporary cinema the street artist has built in some dank railway arches next to Waterloo train station. As you would expect from him, both the site and the movie were surprising, entertaining and just a little unsettling.

The cinema, nicknamed “The Lambeth Palace” and sold as “London’s darkest and dirtiest new cinema” (with an exception made for “Cineworld Edmonton”), is a 150-seater auditorium at the end of a series of gloomy bare-brick caverns, in which typical Banksy interventions have been placed: a cardboard Queen and Prince Phillip opening ceremonial velvet curtains to reveal a spray-painted Anarchy “A”, a bonfire of Old Master paintings going up in fabric flames, hamster cages of animatronic hot dogs, and a bar in the form of a grungy ice cream van…

Read the rest on

Esquire also says that the film will be screening twice daily there until March 1st. I’m seeing the film later this week, so I’ll post a review in a few days.

Rodrico has some photos from the event, where they have painted a red carpet on the road and made a sort of mini-exhibition…

More photos here.

All photos by Rodrico

Via/pretty much the same post as Banksy Prints

First fan review of Banksy film

First of all, I came across this quote today from Skewville from a few years ago about the potential implosion of the street art world: “I think once there’s a big corny movie that comes out like street art 3d or whatever, then it’s gonna… that’s when it’s over.” I just thought that was funny.

More importantly, has just posted a review of Exit Through The Gift Shop. From what I’ve seen, it’s the first review by a fellow street art fanatic and not a typical film reviewer. It’s great to hear that everybody from film critics to hard-core Banksy fans are loving the film.

Banksy film in Berlin

Exit Through The Gift Shop is playing at the Berlin Film Festival today, and Banksy had a little video message for people before the screening.

Banksy Prints reports that Banksy said “I guess my ambition was to make a film that would do for graffiti art what ‘The Karate Kid’ did for martial arts — a film that would get every schoolkid in the world picking up a spray can and having a go…As it turns out, I think we might have a film that does for street art what ‘Jaws’ did for waterskiing.”

Banksy Prints also speculates that since the festival director has stated that Banksy is in town, maybe he will paint a few pieces in Berlin. I’d say there’s a pretty good shot of Banksy doing some painting while he’s in town, after all, if I’m not mistaken, there are no surviving Banksy paintings left in Berlin.