It would be hard to imagine a documentary more prankishly enjoyable than Exit Through the Gift Shop. On the simplest level, it’s the story of a man with an obsession. His name is Thierry Guetta, and in the late 1990s he’s the French-born owner of an L.A. boutique who gets fixated on the new global tidal wave of anonymous street art. Through Guetta, we meet folks like Shepard Fairey, who later became famous for his Obama poster (though he was already an underground star for his satirical-fascist image of wrestler Andre the Giant). Guetta follows Fairey and others on their midnight guerrilla-art missions, videotaping their exploits for a doc he plans to make.
The holy grail of Guetta’s quest is to meet the supersecretive London graffiti artist?turned?high-end gallery star who goes by the handle Banksy. When he does, the street-art legend proves even more devious than he imagined. Instead of allowing a film to be made about him, Banksy decides to make his own movie about?Thierry Guetta. And Exit Through the Gift Shop is that film. Yet just as Banksy is turning the tables on Guetta, Guetta turns the tables on him (and us) by becoming a street artist himself — and by mounting an L.A. exhibition that’s either the crassest art show ever assembled or the most deceptively ingenious. Exit Through the Gift Shop is an exhilarating hall-of-mirrors look at what happens when global art fame turns anonymous, artists become objects, fans turn into artists, and the whole what’s-sincere-and-what’s-a-sham spectacle is more fun than art was ever supposed to be. A