20

I just finished watching Banksy's documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, about Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. "Mr. Brainwash"), an eccentric filmmaker who followed the street art scene until eventually starting his own art career. Banksy and Shepard Fairey think he's mentally unstable, but nevertheless endorse his show not believing there's any harm to it. Much to their surprise, "Mr. Brainwash" becomes a huge hit based on their endorsements.

Never having heard of "Mr. Brainwash" before, I looked him up and found that many people believe he's a hoax concocted by Banksy to make a statement about today's art scene. Others say that the amount of detail needed to create the "Mr. Brainwash" persona would be too much for a simple fabrication.

So is there definitive proof either way?

  • 1
    I think a problem in the discussion is the "either he is a hoax or not"-attitude. Rather Thierry Guetta exists and have done art, perhaps even under the name of Mr Brainwash, but most of the story as well as the claims that he doesn't actually do any of the art himself, is bogus. (It's also notable that I lived in Paris until recently and Invader's and Banksy's art is everywhere. Never seen any of the ones attributed to Mr Brainwash). – Lennart Regebro Apr 11 '11 at 5:24
  • 1
    Here's an interesting community interview of Jeff Alulis, a Documentary filmmaker who knew Mr. Brainwash personally. reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/f4mxs/… He answers a lot of questions, but basically, he says that Mr. Brainwash is even more crazy than the documentary portrays him. He answers a lot of questions that show that Mr Brainwash is ultimately all too real, at least as a character, and in his interactions with Shepard Fairey. – Jeremy Salwen Jul 3 '11 at 20:05
  • Yes, he is real. My roommate works for him. My roommate comes home with stories about what his boss did that day... stories that made a lot more sense after I saw Exit Through the Giftshop. – Vern Jensen Apr 5 '13 at 22:37
  • @Vern Jensen: my roommate is the one who did those artwork and says Mr. Brainwash does not exist. See what I've done there? – nico Apr 6 '13 at 10:36
14

Full disclosure, I have not seen this film.

Like so many other instances in real life, perhaps it's a bit of both. And keep in mind, proof is generally limited to mathematics. An LA Times investigative reporter dug into this a bit, and found a few details that support Thierry Guetta's biography. He is indeed a real individual, and he was born in France, moved to the US, and is involved in the art scene.

There is evidence that he was displaying his video work, with the 2006 posting of LIFE REMOTE CONTROL.

However, keep in mind that a director could "embellish" aspects of a person's life if they were motivated to highlight a parody on the art scene.

Of course, it is impossible to prove whether his latest incarnation, Mr. Brainwash, is sincere. The film suggests that Guetta's artistic alter ego is largely a creation of Banksy, a notion Guetta doesn't refute.

Additionally, there is some vagueness in statements by Guetta, such as (emphasis mine):

Despite an unvarnished anger for Banksy and Guetta today, Levy nevertheless says the story in "Exit" is almost entirely true.

And when there are a lot of public documents and records showing that people have taken out sums of money that need to be repaid, there is certainly a motivation to hype and promote something.

"Exit" is rather explicit about Banksy's role engineering the film's final act

This would indicate that the credited director is indeed making every effort to ensure that he makes some money off the deal. Does this mean that Guetta is fabricated? Probably not. Again, documentation exists back to his birth in 1966, as well as supporting his lifestyle as an artist, and even his compulsive video taping of things starting in the late 1990s.

Then there is the outside of Bansky's influence Glen Friedman (a famous photographer in his own right) and Guetta dramatics is covered in an article by the Guardian, which also suggest that this is for the most part "real".

So, as the comment by Lennart, it's a mixture of both elements, although a preponderance of evidence points to this guy and his story being for the most part real.. Think of it as a promotional activity that has taken on a life larger than the individual originally portrayed.

  • 1
    Dad, I thought you watched this with mom and me? Or were you on a trip? – Skava Jul 2 '11 at 20:32
  • 1
    @Mark Trapp, The problem with "proof" is that NOTHING is ever proven except in Mathematics. If anything, I would say that given what little I do know of the case, the "it's real" camp has more legitimacy than the hoax camp, but not by much. And I do plan to catch it on Netflix in the near future. – Larian LeQuella Jul 2 '11 at 23:00
  • 2
    @Jeremy Salwen, the human being Guetta is beyond a doubt real. The "persona" of "Mr. Brainwash" however has a lot of elements of being somewhat hyped up and manufactured. Hence why I conclude elements of "both" in my answer. Perhaps I didn't come across very clear since I have not seen the film in question. – Larian LeQuella Jul 3 '11 at 20:15
  • 1
    @Larian: I think this is exactly what is happening. In the documentary, Mr. Brainwash is seen promoting himself, and asks for help from Shepard and Banksy. There is no issue about the promotion of MBW being the non-genuine part of his character. The question is whether it was his idea to become a knockoff street artist, and whether he acts as one primarily for his own reasons, or for the purposes of creating a documentary about it. I guess the question of whether his personal character as portrayed in the film is accurate is another point which might be addressed. (continued) – Jeremy Salwen Jul 3 '11 at 20:37
  • 1
    Overall, it's hard for you to get the point, because you haven't seen the documentary. Obviously, MBW is hyped. The issue is how genuine MBW takes his own art to be. Your focus on "hype" and "promotion" is entirely misguided. There is no disagreement over the fact that MBW was promoted by Shepard and Banksy. The question is whether they did it in order to create a movie, or because Guetta convinced them to do so in order to promote his own artwork (in the nature of the character portrayed in the film). – Jeremy Salwen Jul 3 '11 at 20:39
-2

I think Mr. Brainwash makes much more sense as satire than as a real person.

Mr. Brainwash, supposedly a hack artist who successfully plagiarize his way to instant fame, represents several of Banksy's favorite targets -- shallow media, fame-seekers, sell-out artists, dumb fans -- rolled into one unappealing character.

Additionally, in the movie, the character serves as a vehicle for weaving all those years of amateur footage with the film's present-day documentary footage. In the real world, the character's very limited number of public appearances (ahem) afford Bansky some opportunity to operate in public while still not revealing himself.

The website mrbrainwash.com seems real at first glance, but is largely "under construction". Several months ago, the site's store had a non-functioning shopping cart feature. Today the site's store says all items are sold out. http://www.mrbrainwash.com/store/store.html

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

You must log in to answer this question.