"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Three Art Docs

“Your art is the prettiest art of all the art.” --Roy from The Office

I’ve recently viewed three documentaries about art. But such different art.

Most recently, I saw the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop. This film is made by the underground street artist called Banksy, about whom I knew nothing until he created a Simpsons couch gag for an episode back in October. You remember: Korean sweatshop, dead kitty fur in the Bart dolls, Panda bears used as pack mules, DVD-hole-punching sad unicorns. View the couch gag here.

Exit Through the Gift Shop isn’t really about Banksy. It’s about a guy named Thierry Guetta who films everything he does. Everything. Just films it. He’s married, has a family, and runs a thrift shop in Los Angeles. Then a relation from France visits and takes him out at night to meet up with some street artists and...do street art. I guess that’s what you call it. This is more than just graffiti. I suppose you could call it tagging, because it’s like they have their own signature, but it’s so much cooler than that. I wouldn’t mind at all if one of these guys tagged my garage door. One guy glues tile images of space invaders all over the city. One guy draws (with spray paint) a stick figure that seems to fit in with any signage or crack in the wall. Then there’s the guy who photoshopped Andre the Giant’s head over a declarative “OBEY” and put those things up all over the world. His name is Shepard Fairey and went on to design the famous tri-color Obama portrait during the 2008 election. Eventually Guetta meets up with Banksy, who’s British and super-reclusive. No one really knows who he is. (I personally think he must be the Countess of Pembroke.) But he does the coolest art of all the street art. This is one of my favorites:

And here's Bansky's website. You should visit.

It turns out that Banksy thought Guetta was actually a documentary film maker, when really, all Guetta was doing was filming things. Guetta tries to make an actual film at one point, and it kind of looks like that video tape from The Ring. Banksy eventually just tells Guetta to stop filming and go make his own art, so that’s what Guetta does. He doesn’t really seem to have any talent, so he hires young graphic artists to create things for him. Within a couple of months, he’s got hundreds of pieces completed and he’s putting on the biggest show in LA, selling pieces for thousands of dollars each. I think the film says he made over a million dollars with this art show. You can imagine the hooded shadow of Bansky just shaking his head, grinning all the while like Mr. Burns, tenting his fingers, and muttering through the vocorder, “Excellent.”

Now Exit Through the Gift Shop gets an Academy Award nomination. Which is why I think this film says something so interesting about art. Banksy’s film is a wink and a nod through the teeth at what it takes to be an artist, by basically showing how a man with no talent can become the talk of the town. And the real question is can Banksy continue to be an underground street artist if he’s making Oscar-nominated documentaries and writing couch gags for arguably one of the most popular television shows ever? Despite the provocative nature of the gag, and the total in-joke tone of the movie, once you're that successful, can you still be subversive?

I don’t have as much to say about the other two films.

Rivers and Tides is about the artist Andy Goldsworthy who creates temporary works of art from elements of nature. He makes giant egg-shaped sculptures from flat rocks. He strings leaves into a snake, then sets it loose down a babbling brook just to see what shapes and colors it produces. He fashions a huge web just by balancing small sticks upon one another. It’s a pretty slow moving film, but put it on an HD screen, turn up the mesmerizing Fred Frith soundtrack, and just experience the random beauty.

If you’re telling yourself that filling a tide pool with dandelion heads and taking a picture of it isn’t art, then, well, you’re wrong because you really should see what he can do with dandelion heads and wood chips, but also, you need to see My Kid Could Paint That. This one’s about a five or six-year-old girl named Marla Olmstead, who’s abstract painting created quite a stir in the art world a few years ago. Her father marketed her art and sold several pieces for thousands of dollars. Then some stodgy old 60 Minutes reporter dared to question if Marla was really the one painting these pieces. The film follows that controversy and even tries to film Marla painting a canvas to see if she’s really the artist. (Personally, I think they must have been painted by the Countess of Pembroke.) The other issue brought up in the film is what makes art, art. There’s an intriguing discussion about abstract art and how it’s really not as easy to create as some people like to think.

Take a look at some of Marla Olmstead’s paintings. Here's her website. A few do look to me a little like a child’s finger paintings, but others look like they could be by Jackson Pollock. Does it matter who painted them? Is it enough just to think they look cool?

Exit Through the Gift Shop website
I couldn't find an official Rivers and Tides website, but here's some good info.
My Kid Could Paint That website


  1. Well, if everybody's idea of art was exactly the same, then it would get pretty boring pretty fast. To paraphrase somebody, I don't know diddly about 'art' but I do know what I like.

    Heck. Somebody had to go first!

  2. I actually like all three of these kinds of art. And I don't really know why.

    Thanks for commenting, rev.

  3. THink I'm going to have to go watch Exit Thru the Gift Shop. Sounds like fun! Have you seen Art School Confidential? It's VERY dark humor.

  4. Lola, do go watch Exit. It's great. I meant to see Art School confidential when it was released, but it kind of came and went. I love Daniel Clowes graphic novels, though. Ghost World is also a great movie.