Recently, I watched Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop and I’ve been mildly obsessed. This documentary seems to link perfectly with the theoretical work we’ve been studying in class: the reproduction of art.
Reproduction is what street artists do. Most artists have a “trademark” or a “tag” that they paint on buildings everywhere. Shepard Fairey is known for his “Obey” image, which has not only been reproduced on walls around the world, but also has been reproduced in a shopping mall near you! (Just the other day, I was walking through campus when I spotted a man wearing a sweatshirt with the Obey image on it. Huh.) What’s interesting about the work, is what Shepard Fairey has to say about it: “the more stickers are out there, the more important it seems. The more important it is, the more people want to know what it means. They ask each other, and it gains real power from perceived power.”
What Fairey is saying, then, is that the image is powerless until power is given to it. This power is given through reproduction, as reproduction makes the image appear important: if the image is everywhere, then it must mean something! This is the exact same technique that is used with 1) advertising and 2) the fetal image, according to Petchesky. The image itself is powerless, until someone out there decides to give power and meaning to it. This power, oftentimes, is given through reproduction.
This brings me to Thierry Guetta (side-note, but interesting enough: many people (as the internet would have be believe) seem to think Thierry is either a) a made-up persona or b) Bansky himself. Huh). Originally, Thierry (or Mr Brainwash (MBW)) was simply an observer of street art, which he filmed with his camera. But then, MBW became a participant as he too began to place replica images around the city. What was his tag? Why, a photo of himself of course!
“Obey” seems to have meaning; it seems to hold some hidden secret. But what is this? This is reproduction, but does it hold power?
Theirry soon became obsessed with street art; it began a production, and a job. He hired people to reproduce his image and, later, to make his art for him. He would come up with the “idea” and someone else would fabricate the art. Art, which was once an expression of thought, had now become mass reproduction. For me, the power of art is the power of expression without words. Art can convey so much that one cannot say, due to whatever reason. But production and reproduction of art removes the expression of art; all art becomes is consumerism. And this is precisely what happens with Theirry. MBW opens an art show where he sells art pieces, making millions of dollars. Even the “original” pieces of art he gives away to the first 2000 people are artificial: all these original prints are are the same image with a different paint splatter on them. Sure, they are technically original and can be marketed as so, but what is the meaning behind them? Reproduction and production; simplicity and lack-of-thought.
Can you spot the difference?
The theorists we have been studying so all agree on the dangers, or cautions, of art reproduction, and reproduction in general. One of the greatest concerns, as I’ve addressed previously, is that reproduction is preventing us from thinking and thus is forcing us to conform. I believe that street art attempts to subvert this, and attempts to push boundaries and break the reproductive-conformist role. Theirry’s art, however, appears to do just the opposite by not only copying other artists, but also by falling into capitalist and consumerist gains over true meaning and thought. I mean, what is the point of thinking and producing true art when you can get rich and famous by doing nothing at all?
“[Theirry’s] art looks quite a lot like everyone else’s…” -Banksy