Spray on: ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ screening in Oakland

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Abandoned alleyways, bus stops, billboards, art museums, collections and galleries: graffiti seems to be everywhere lately. An art form that was once restricted to illegal, after-dark projects on the streets of major cities now pervades upscale art scenes and pop culture alike. This transition of street art is well represented in the 2010 Academy Award-nominated film, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which will be shown tonight at 9:00pm at The Compound Gallery in Oakland.

The film begins with homespun footage from Thierry Guetta, fedora-wearing, LA-based Frenchman, as he scours the streets, video camera in hand, shadowing graffiti artists from the likes of Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy himself, the director and producer of the film. The edgy rawness of the first 48 minutes or so is the film’s main draw as it bridges the gap between the empty concrete wall from the night before and the words and images that decorate it the next morning.

At this point, the camera tornadoes away from Thierry’s shaky footage and eclectic narration onto himself, a burgeoning artist bursting onto the street art scene. Banksy, who has, since the movie’s release, become a household name , narrates the latter portion of the film as a masked figure with a distorted Darth Vader voice, a silhouette of a person. And again, we see graffiti move from the streetcars to swanky galleries, from no-name taggers to millionaire artists. Is the once underground art form losing its edge as it continues to move above ground?

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