If fooling people into thinking you are an artist isn’t art, then I don’t know what art is. That’s exactly what makes Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, one of the biggest contemporary artists of the time.
Love him or hate him, Mr. Brainwash has built his name and way into the art industry like no other. From rags to riches, learn about the art industry’s biggest and most fascinating scam.
Don’t ask, just film
It all started in 1999 when Thierry Guetta took a family holiday to France.
His cousin had been recreating space invader’s characters with ceramic tile mosaics and decorating the streets with them.
Thierry, who was already fascinated with the idea of capturing everything on camera, filmed his cousin during his nightly adventures.
Thierry was no stranger to cameras. After losing his mother to an illness when he was only 11 years old, he was haunted by the fact that he had missed making memories.
Thierry became compelled by the need to capture everything on film. Now, however, he was filming something no one else had seen: the adrenaline of street art.
Little did he know that he had landed in the middle of one of the biggest counter-cultural movements in history. And, as a new generation of artists using stencils, posters, and stickers was born, Thierry was there to record every single moment.
Obsessed with the steady thrills of graffiti art, he then traveled to Los Angeles.
His cousin (known as Space Invader) arranged a meeting with Shepard Fairey, famous for his work with the Obama Campaign and one of the world’s most prolific street artists.
Soon, Thierry became Shepard’s accomplice; not only he was there on the lookout while he did his work, but he was also telling the story of the graffiti through his camera lens.
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As Thierry ventured further into the field, he got to know a handful of artists including Swoon, Borf, and Ron English, who he all convinced that he was filming a “documentary.”
This went through for the next eight years of his life, traveling the world recording every detail of each artist’s life. But naturally, as a person intrigued by risk, there was one guy yet to know: Bansky.
A game of chess
Thierry finally found a way to get the one missing part of his non-existent documentary and met Banksy through his connections. He started following him around doing what he did best: record.
“All of a sudden, auction houses were selling street art. It all became about money when it was never meant to be. So the documentary which Thierry had been working on was perfect to tell the story.” — Banksy, 2010
But Thierry had no intention of doing a documentary. All eight years of tape were going nowhere. After it was filmed and it was done, it was then locked away in boxes.
Banksy placed Thierry on the spot when he asked for the film. When an “un-watchable nightmare” had landed in his hands, Bansky finally realized Thierry Guetta was, in fact, no filmmaker.
A disappointed Banksy suggested Thierry make his own art, having no idea what he had just done. “I used to think everyone should make art,” said Banksy. “Now, I don’t really think that anymore.”
Thierry took Banksy’s suggestion as a direct order. He remortgaged his house and sold everything he had to invest in a new studio with screen sprinting equipment and full-time staff. He then committed himself to mastering the craft he’d spent years documenting.
Having no idea what he was doing he said, “It was like being a chess player, without having played chess in your entire life.”
And Banksy? He had absolutely no idea how far things would go.
The big bang!
“It was like being an Artist overnight. I’m nobody, never did an exposition or a gallery anywhere.” — Thierry Guetta, 2010
Committed to not disappointing his “mentor,” Thierry rented a 15,000 square foot complex in the heart of Hollywood. It was the perfect venue for his debut show as an artist in his exhibition titled “Life is Beautiful.”
He asked his friends for a quote to promote the event with two of them being Shepard Fairey and Banksy himself. The media immediately picked up the endorsements by Banksy and Fairey and within a few days Los Angeles woke up to discover a new artist phenomenon: Mister Brainwash.
While private art collectors bought Mister Brainwash’s work for up to $24,000, things didn’t go without a hitch.
Eight hours before the opening, almost 200 pieces had finally arrived framed and ready to be hung. With only two hours before the opening, the crew started putting the paintings on the wall.
When the doors finally opened, 4,000 people flew through an art exhibit filled with art and complex installations.
It was pop art mixed with street art and a bunch of image appropriations from other recognizable artists; from the Mona Liza to Warhol’s Campbell soup. MBW was everywhere, brainwashing people to believe he was the ultimate artist, and they all bought it.
During the opening week, he sold one million dollars worth of art. What was supposed to be a five-day exhibition, ended up being a two-month event. His pieces are now found in many galleries and art shows around the world.
So, what’s the lesson here? Fake it till you make it!
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