There has been a lot of chatter about the star of Banksy's film Exit Through the Giftshop, Thierry Guetta, aka "Mr Brainwash". The 44-year-old French artist was meant simply to direct Banksy's film about street artists, but soon became its principal subject – prompting many to suggest that: a) Brainwash was just a media prank, a convenient invention of Banksy's; or b) that he is actually Banksy himself. But if he is some kind of media construct, it appears to be working.
I went to Brainwash's show in New York last week, and it was like falling into a semiotic supermarket, a gallery full of reductive icons. In an enormous space in the Meatpacking District, Guetta showed dozens of his pieces, including many variations of his life-size New York yellow taxi, stuck in a giant Matchbox case; portraits made from broken vinyl records (Chuck Close might have painted Philip Glass with fingerprints; Brainwash paints U2 with vinyl); and a multitude of hastily drawn images of the great and the good. And a lot of it appeared to have already been sold, suggesting that the work – priced from $8,000 to $250,000 – is resonating with the art world.
Is it any good? Some of it, yes, very good. If you ask me – which, to his credit, Guetta did, although I was too polite to tell him – he needs a good editor, and the show needed to have been half the size. But then he seems to be selling everything he sticks his name on – a recent show in LA was every bit as successful – so what do I know? "I am like a machine, a human machine," he told me, in his charmingly accelerated broken English. "I spit out ideas as though they were words – words, words, words, hundreds and hundreds of them every day. I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself just bursting with things I want to do. I am ... just a little bit crazy." Hmmm. Guetta certainly has the surface smarts and the mediated swagger of a 21st-century RSA (Rock Star Artist). He has assumed the arrogance of the ultimate YBA, the dress sense of a portly Jim Morrison, and the ideology of a young Mark Kostabi. Really, seriously, who can blame him?
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'Reuse content