If you’re in tune with even a sliver of art culture, you know who Banksy is. Mysterious and shadowy, the world is constantly trying to figure out who this visionary artist is, especially with the opening of his bemusement park, Dismaland, in the UK. But we’re not here to talk about Banksy. We’re here to talk about the rumored-to-actually-be-Banksy street-artist and filmmaker, Mr. Brainwash, specifically his pop-up exhibit, Life is Beautiful, that’s been making splashes in NYC.
Thierry Guetta a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash popped on the scene in 2010 when Banksy released his Academy Award-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop (and if you haven’t seen it I suggest you treat yourself to a night in with Netflix and this film). It tells the supposedly true story of Guetta, a French immigrant who moves to Los Angeles, and I won’t spoil the ending except to say that in real life, Guetta turns into the brilliantly successful Mr. Brainwash.
Now, I love his name, especially when you know the context of his work. Guetta’s signature work revolves around the clever rendering and altering of pop culture icons – so think of Andy Warhol except taking one step further. His name reflects on how these figures impact society in such a way that people will change their lifestyle or beliefs based on whatever is socially acceptable on that day. We are brainwashed by social media and other people’s opinions, and Mr. Brainwash confronts you with this idea through his work.
Life is Beautiful is located on West 13th Street near the entrance to the Highline in the Meatpacking District in New York City. As you approach the gallery, all you can see are statues stacked up against one another, crowding the windows. Prominent cultural figures are showcased in this pop-up and are given a humorous twist while creating a social commentary. For instance, Mr. Brainwash takes Warhol’s tomato soup can and turns it into a tomato soup spray can, or creating a royal portrait of Caitlyn Jenner. The space is packed with trashy-pop sculptures and re-adaptations, leaning items against the walls and creating mountains of old-school tech tools and toys like typewriters and grungy stuffed animals. There’s plenty of seating, making the space feel like a weird residential or communal area, where you can reflect on the work towering over you while flipping through the pages of a Magritte book conveniently left on the coffee table in front of you.
This exhibit shares the messages of how beautiful life and love are along with the major influence pop culture has on society. I left the gallery with a smile across my face for the genius behind Mr. Brainwash’s work, with the reminder that everything relies on how you’d like to look at it.
It’s all about perspective.