One of this year’s surprise Oscar nominees – the graffiti artist, Banksy, for his sly and brilliantly entertaining documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop – has arrived in Hollywood for Sunday’s event. The world’s most famous street artist, who zealously conceals his identity behind a monkey mask, has made his presence known through a series of new tags around Los Angeles (including a urinating bulldog sprayed on a wall in Beverly Hills) that might be construed as anti-hype for his Best Documentary-nominated film. A similar media un-blitz preceded the movie’s 2010 world premiere, at Sundance.
Academy executives have been shifting gears over how to accommodate Banksy – should he decide to show up on award night. His appearance would mark the first and last time a monkey-masked star walks the red carpet. The artist’s anonymity is closely guarded, not only to protect his mysterious persona, but ostensibly the value of his paintings (one of the new L.A. graffiti works, sprayed on a Vegas showgirl billboard, has been valued at more than $500,000 with the paint barely dry). Initially, Academy executives said a disguised Banksy would be barred from the Kodak stage, but later changed their decision.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a rousing parable about art, authenticity and a viral breed of hype, in which an L.A.-based French filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, is given rare access to Banksy’s world in order to document him; but under his tutelage, becomes a painter himself, and eventually, the subject of the film. There are cameos by other graffiti luminaries, including Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic Barak Obama “Hope” poster. No matter what you think of the market for sprayed and stenciled art, Banksy brings to graffiti a level of sophistication, humor and searing intelligence well worth the price of admission.