The Los Angeles-based street artist Thierry Guetta, better known as Mr Brainwash, has lost a copyright case involving a 1977 photograph of the punk rock musician Sid Vicious shot by the British photographer Dennis Morris. Guetta had claimed that the seven works he created using Morris’s black and white photograph, including one mural and one collage made of broken vinyl records, were sufficiently altered to be protected by the fair use defence, which allows for the use of copyrighted material for commentary, criticism and parody.
The federal judge rejected Guetta’s claim, saying that “most of [the] defendant’s works add certain new elements, but the overall effect of each is not transformative.” The judge also opposed the argument that “appropriation art per se” should be protected by fair use. As we went to press, the terms of the settlement, including unspecified damages, were being determined.
In 2011 Guetta lost a copyright case to Glen Friedman over his use of Friedman’s photograph of the rap group Run DMC, while last year the estate of the photographer Jim Marshall sued Guetta and Google for the unauthorised use of Marshall’s photographs of musicians. This case has not yet been decided and is due to go to trial in July.
It is no secret that I am a huge lover of art. Specifically, I tend to favor modern and contemporary art over marble statues and oil paintings of zaftig nudes and bowls of fruit. All due props to Michelangelo and Matisse, that stuff doesn’t really ‘yank my chain,’ as they say; but put me in a museum full of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Jeff Koons’ gigantic, painted steel Balloon Dog sculptures and I’m in heaven. Being blessed with someone like Geoffrey as a BFF, it only stands to reason that I would have become a bit fond of the Street Art. Because if Geoffrey is any kind of gay, he is completely and totally GAY FOR THE STREET ART. Just being serious. If it weren’t for Geoffrey, the likes of Banksy and D Face would still be a mystery to me. This past February, Geoffrey forced (not really) me to stand in line outside in the freezing cold for hours and hours, until my tiny feet turned into blocks of ice, to get into the Mr. Brainwash Icons exhibit in the meatpacking district. At the time, I barely even knew who the fuck Mr. Brainwash was, but after five minutes inside the gallery – and once I was able to thaw out and tap a kidney – I became a huge Mr. Brainwash fan. Because, as an artist whose work embodies a cross between Bansky and my beloved Andy Warhol, Mr. Brainwash, he is the shit. So thanks, Geoffrey, for turning me into a fan.
At New York’s Sunshine Theater right now, there is a documentary film playing called Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I took myself to see this past Sunday afternoon. Exit Through the Gift Shop tells the engaging and hilarious story of a French immigrant vintage clothing boutique proprietor living in Los Angeles named Thierry (“Terry”) Guetta, who became obsessed with video-taping the late night activities of Graffiti / Street Artists. Through his relentless filming escapades, Guetta eventually meets the most prolific purveyor of Street Art (the now world-famous Shepard Fairey) and later the most elusive one (the uber-mysterious Bansky) and becomes a kind of sidekick or assistant to these men. Although it is initially Guetta’s objective to transform his thousand of hours of film into a bona fide documentary about Street Artists, once he shows his “completed film” (entitled Life Remote Control) to Banksy, it becomes painfully obvious that Guetta has no idea how to make a cohesive film. However, heartened by Guetta’s never-say-die spirit and fiery, creative passion, Banksy encourages him to go out and make some Street Art himself.
From that point in the film, we see Thierry transform himself from an obsessed fan into a Street Artist who would eventually become known as – wait for it – Mr. Brainwash! Directed by Banksy and featuring prime cuts from Guetta’s rare “gonzo” footage, and punctuated by interviews with dozens of other artists, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a rare movie-going experience that not only captivates the viewer but one that also manages to propose and offer insightful answers to the timeless question “what is art?” Plus you have to love the part where Banksy and Brainwash surreptitiously attempt to install a work of Guantanamo Bay Detainee–inspired “Art” at Disneyland: one of the most tightly policed places on Earth. Hee!
If you walk into this film not knowing anything about Graffiti Artists or Street Art whatsoever, you will likely come out with a thoroughly comprehensive knowledge of the movement while having been entertained far beyond your money’s worth. What other film can you say that about? The more time I have to digest this film, the more I am convinced that Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the best and most thoroughly enjoyable films I have seen in my life – which puts it right up there with A Clockwork Orange and Harold and Maude.
The Worley Gig givesExit Through the Gift ShopFive Out of Five Stars.