Scene from Exit Through the Gift Shop, a new documentary by the graffiti artist Banksy
Under the hoodie: Scene from a new documentary about and directed by the shadowy graffiti artist Banksy.


We’re still waiting for Banksy to visit Chicago.

FILM Last year, a series of tongue-in-cheek, black-and-white sketches popped up all over Chicago; they featured a perfectly coiffed Rod Blagojevich donning a slick black tracksuit. The disgraced ex-governor jogged across Chicago walls, from one outside the Violet Hour bar in Wicker Park to an alleyway behind Macy’s on State Street. Internet rumors quickly circulated, speculating that the work was a covert mission by Banksy, the notoriously elusive British graffiti artist—until the Chicago Tribune composed a slideshow gallery and traced the many faces of Blago back to a stencil originally designed by the Pilsen artist Ray Noland.

Rat by Banksy
Rat, by Banksy

Chicago smelled a rat; it just wasn’t a Banksy rat.

Last Wednesday, I attended a screening of Banksy’s latest stunt: his directorial debut. The documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, opens in Chicago tomorrow, April 30th, at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema. The film chronicles the unlikely friendships forged between a kooky amateur filmmaker named Thierry Guetta and certain high-profile members of the graffiti underground—most notably Banksy himself and Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles–based graphic artist whose stylized "Hope" poster series for the 2008 Obama campaign took political advertisement to a new, artistic stratum.

The movie is a little hokey, but it’s also visually stunning and entirely charming. It certainly sheds light on the scope of Banksy’s achievement as a street artist: After years of creating on-the-run works via public canvasses, Banksy has inspired countless copycats and attracted money and attention from patrons in the fine art world without ever revealing his identity. When the film periodically cuts to shots of Banksy, the artist mumbles, his voice altered, from under the folds of an oversize, hooded sweatshirt, often with his back to the camera and lit from behind or the side. Banksy appears in the movie—and, then again, he doesn’t.

Why even make a film? "Street art has a short lifespan," he tells the camera. "So it needs to be documented."

GO: Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N Clark, 773-509-4949.

  • The New York Times review by Melena Ryzik, 4/13/2010:
    "The film itself was a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival this year, especially after Banksy works (including stenciled images of a cameraman shooting a flower) began popping up on storefront walls in Park City, Utah. At the Berlin International Film Festival in February, he called a news conference, only to cancel it at the last minute and show a video, in which he appears in shadows, cloaked in a hoodie and with his voice disguised, as he does in the film, to vouch for its veracity."
  • The NBC Chicago review by Scott Ross, 4/16/2010:
    "It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Banksy has flipped the script and convinced the world he does in fact exist. Watching the film, there’s nothing to dispel the notion that Banksy isn’t actually a collective."
  • The A.V. Club review by Noel Murray, 4/15/2010:
    "In telling the story of Guetta’s obsessive behavior, Banksy delivers a surprisingly wry, analytical essay-film that starts out being about the DIY impulse, then becomes about what makes an artist great, and not a well-meaning wannabe."
  • The Entertainment Weekly review by Owen Gleiberman, 4/15/2010:
    "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."
  • The Los Angeles Times review by Kenneth Turan, 4/16/2010:
    "Anyone who’s ever been to an exhibition at a major museum will recognize the implications of the title and understand that the film serves in part as a caustic jeremiad on the rampant commercialization of the art world. But that is only the beginning."