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Exit Through the Gift Shop: Anonymous Art & Attribution

Graffiti is a curious art form. Works of graffiti are usually ignored, or worse, criticized for invading our public space and often destroyed. For example, a whitewashing of an outdoor mural has caused protesting in Los Angeles (see ArtInfo).This is in contrast to advertising, which not only invades but dominates public space, and which we largely accept (for more on this, see NYC-based PublicAdCampaign).

However, a few graffiti artists have earned our respect. Perhaps the most renowned of graffiti artists is “Banksy“. He travels around the world, marking up public spaces with humorous images that are simple and often feature appropriated elements. Who he is, what his modus operandi is, and where he’ll go next are all difficult to pin down. Despite his fame and admiration, he remains aloof and anonymous.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary released in Spring 2010, went some way to unmasking the figure, but only some way. Anthony Lane, reviewing the film in New Yorker, notes that Banksy’s fan base is actually “unceasingly piqued by his anonymity.” Accordingly, the film is vague in its acknowledgments. Banksy remains obscured, and no writer or director is even given credit.

The film has come under attack for being a hoax. In response to those charges, Banksy issued a rare statement to blogger AJ Schnack, of All Wonderful Things, that the film is true.

Now, one filmmaker involved has stepped forward to demand credit for his contribution to the work. Joachim Levy, a Swiss filmmaker, claims to be the editor of the film-within-the film. This raises interesting issues about legal rights to attribution. Levy told the New York Times that the anonymity of graffiti is not appropriate for other art forms:

“Street art is free, it’s for everyone, and you can go and put a graffiti on someone else’s graffiti. It’s kind of street law. But you can’t apply street art law to films, and just say, hey, let’s do what ever we want.”

Banksy has not yet responded to Levy’s charges. Regardless of what he says – can we trust an artist that appropriates, withholds information, defaces public space, and remains anonymous?

Read the latest at the New York Times.