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Wondering... Exit Through the Gift Shop: It’s an Exit, Not an Entrance!

To begin with, let's be frank, Banksy is filthy rich. The word "banks" is embedded in his name, for Chrissakes.

by Bruce LaBruce
14 December 2011, 9:30am


My Jodie Foster tattoo

I don’t know Banksy that I know of. I mean, how would I know even if I knew him? Nobody knows what he looks like. He’s an international man of mystery, always travelling incognito, like lonely Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls. But I did finally watch his movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and I have to confess it depressed the hell out of me. In fact, I’ve been in a stew about it ever since. And now that reports out of Basel Miami this year indicate that the art world is currently making the excesses of Caligula look like The Prairie Hometown Companion (even the New York Times rundown described it as “a millionaire mosh pit slash cross-platform branding frenzy” and “Black Friday for the 0.001 per cent”, amongst other nausea-inducing epigrams), I think it’s time to take the white auctioneer gloves off and get down to the nitty-gritty about the state of the Art World. I’m really as cross as a lipstick lesbian in a room full of Chaz Bonos about this, so it’s probably going to take me several columns. Please bear with me.

To begin with, let’s be frank – Banksy is filthy rich. The word “banks” is embedded in his name, for Chrissakes. Now, I don’t have anything against rich people per se – honestly, some of my best friends are fucking models on big piles of cash as we speak (well, no, actually they’re not…) – but when you make your reputation and career from something as presumably anti-establishment, anti-private property, anti-bourgeois, and yes, even perhaps as anti-capitalist as street art, you can imagine that your own collusion in the financial exploitation of your work within the art world proper could present, shall we say, a bit of a credibility gap? That’s all I’m saying. Add to that the fact that he’s a filthy rich celebrity – an invisible celebrity, granted, but a celebrity nonetheless – and a real problem begins to emerge. A Damien Hirst-sized problem, like a little leak that sprouts in your cross-sectioned shark tank and ends up sending the whole thing crashing down to the gallery floor in a torrent of broken glass and formaldehyde. You know, art problems.

Here’s the thing. I hate to break it to you, but Twitter notwithstanding, celebrities are not your friends. If I may be so bold as to put it in “occupational” terms, celebrities pretty much are the one percent. Or .01 percent, or .001 percent, or whatever the hell it is (since oligarchies are the order of the day, I’m leaning toward the latter). A sidebar on celebrities: owing to the ethically unregulated fiscal management that now allows their wealth to be infinitely leveraged into stratospheric sums, any “leftist” ideals they may have once had are merely vestigial, and will fall away as painlessly as the elastic-bound tail of a pit bull pup at the first sign of any real attempt at the redistribution of wealth. Most “progressive” celebrities merely espouse leftist causes now as a kind of gag reflex, or in the vague hope that when the class war inevitably erupts, the 99 percent will bypass their homes with their pitchforks and torches and head straight for Tom Selleck’s house. But the most sobering thing about mega-celebrities today is not just that they are too big to fail, but, thanks to Larry King, that they have recently become aware that they can have themselves cryogenically frozen with their heads attached, which means that we are going to be stuck with them FOREVER! (I was sure that at the end of the excruciating “Dinner with the Kings” this past week on CNN, Larry was going to announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen, you have just eaten Sebastian Venable!” But sadly, he didn’t. They should have eaten poor Russell Brand, who really needs a new agent.) Gone are the days when phenomenally successful entertainers like David and Sean Cassidy or RuPaul were allowed to fade gracefully back into oblivion, which, bless, is the proper order of the universe. Bieber and Gaga are virtual deities now. They are richer than God (who is actually dealing with His own subprime mortgage situation at the moment), and with cryogenics, you will not only be stuck with them for the rest of your life, but your children and your children’s children will be stuck with them too! (Gaga will probably still have her head cryogenically frozen separately from her body as a retro fashion statement, but I digress.)

But of all the permanently filthy rich stars in the firmament we have henceforth to deal with, it is the Art Star that is suddenly becoming the most formidable and nefarious nemesis of them all. Never mind owning a work of art by Damien Hirst. Damien Hirst owns you. He is essentially a hedge fund. He laughs at your inferiority and at your quaint ideas of “art appreciation”. According to some sources, his own consortium bought his hubristic piece of “art” “For the Love of God,” a baby’s (!) skull encrusted with diamonds, or pretended to buy it at an astronomical sum in order to artificially inflate the value of his other works. Or something like that. Whatever it was, it sounds like a Ponzi scheme to me. He’s probably fucking a baby’s skull on a big pile of diamonds as we speak. If he did it on Britain’s Got Talent while eating Susan Boyle’s ass, I’d be impressed. I mean, he’s not Satan – yet. (For more on Hirst’s aspirations to be the Ultimate Evil, try here.)

The whole art world has become a sort of pyramid scheme. We all know that. It’s merely an adjunct of the financial sector, void of content, void of meaning, apolitical, amoral. It’s probably always been a tax shelter for the rich, and conservative and elitist at its core, but like every other hypercapitalist-driven institution of the contemporary era, it’s gotten exponentially worse. Just as being gay is no longer a bellwether of leftist political affiliation, being an artist is no longer an indication that one is unconventional, or Bohemian, or political, or avant-garde, or even vaguely interesting. The quaint notion of The Left is just a bad habit now, like chewing one’s nails, or morality. If Kidrobot were an artist, he’d probably be a Republicunt. This is pure industry. This is décor. This is not art. There needs to be a new word for what art used to be.

Hirst’s “readymades” (that’s already giving them too much credit) are brazenly designed for capitalist consumption only. His ideas are all proudly stolen (I don’t really care so much about that, but if you want to read about the numerous plagiarism charges, go here), so their entire raison d’etre is evidently purely for the (re)production of capital. With all the stars properly aligning in our brave new universe, he will have his first UK retrospective at the Tate Modern to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics, all of these entities together emblematic of everything that is base and corrupt in the world. (The theme music for this cosmically capitalistic event, incidentally, will be orchestrated by the formerly underworld band “Underworld”, just as an additional little fuck you.)

The point, of course, isn’t that artists shouldn’t make money from their art, or even become quite rich from it. The point is the rather regrettable wholesale reduction of art to pure commodity fetish, and the abandonment of all convictions and principles in favor of creating a privileged elite accountable to no one but their own overblown egos. Yeats’ famous quote, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” pretty much nails it in spades. And yeah, I’ve seen Carnage, and please do not compare me to Jodie Foster. Although ironically (in the Alanis Morrissette sense), I do have a Jodie Foster tattoo. (Hinckley Had a Vision!)

Is Banksy a tosser of the same order of magnitude (why are they always Brits?)? Stay tuned!

Next Week: I finally get to the damn movie. I’m just warming up!

Previously – Winnipeg's Got Elbow Room