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The Banksy Movie

Arts & Culture | May 5, 2010

When most people hear about an art heist, they tend to picture masked men in black sneaking into museums in the dead of night and dodging high tech security devices. This was absolutely not the case earlier this month in Los Angeles, when, in broad daylight, two distinctly unmasked men ‘stole’ a recent Banksy piece. The artwork lasted less than 72 hours before the heist took place. Sound implausible? This was no museum piece; the stolen art was, in fact, part of a wall where Banksy had left his mark. The ‘thieves’ simply took apart the wall and wheeled the artwork away.

The recent release of Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop has sparked an even greater interest in the already famous artist’s work. Banksy’s notoriety comes as much from his mysteriousness as from the intensity of the sociopolitical implications surrounding his work. Banksy’s anonymity has allowed him to dodge the consequences of his controversial pieces and, on occasion, avoid arrest. Banksy is, at the core, a guerilla artist. His art belongs to the street. Many of his pieces are in Bristol, his assumed hometown, or London. Cities worldwide have been graced with their own Banksy glory; LA, New Orleans, Tokyo, and even the Gaza Strip have lent their streets as canvases in the past. Banksy has no mercy; his work often aims to promote alternative thought or poke fun at others. His pieces have referenced everyone from Los Angeles artist Jeff Koons to the Queen of England herself. His art can be as lighthearted as two kissing policemen on the side of a building or as heavy as a blow-up doll turned Guantanamo Bay prisoner on a Disneyland ride.

There is no doubt that Banksy’s counterculture artistry attracts attention, but can he really hold onto his status as guerilla street artist with a film in theaters and artwork selling for tens of thousands of dollars? Exit Through The Gift Shop is shown through the eyes of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman turned Los Angelino whose handheld camera is permanently attached to his hand. Banksy becomes Guetta’s subject in the film; his anonymity is preserved with a fuzzed out face. Still, some of the magic is gone. Even though the promotion for the movie has been more artistic than commercial, the idea that you can watch Banksy work onscreen instead of hearing about his pieces through the grapevine or waiting for one to pop up near you is a bit of a disappointment. As cities worldwide wait for his film to come to theaters, more and more Banksy pieces are popping up on the streets—catch them while you can (they tend to be stolen or vandalized pretty quickly) but don’t worry if you miss them, you can always see the movie!