Mr. Brainwash or Thierry Guetta was once a simple clothing storeowner who later came to the Unites States to become one of arts biggest speakers. Through his habit of filmmaking he was able to steer the course of his career from businessman to street artist. After visiting his cousin, also known as the Space Invader, he had an experience that changed his life. Through this event he was able to gain first hand experience of modern street art was. Once returning to the United States, he spent time with the famous Shepard Fairey. Shepard then showed him the techniques and skills he would later need to grow his graffiti career. Through his habit of film he was able to create a documentary on some of the best-known artist such as Buffmonsters, Borf, Swoon, Dotmasters, and Bansky. After the well known graffiti film Exit Through the Gift Shop, Thierry Guetta named himself Mr. Brainwash because of what Bansky and Fairey do “Brainwash.”
“Life is Beautiful”
After being exposed and inspired by his filming experience Thierry Guetta decided to create his own artwork. Originally created to endorse his art show the large black and white mural “Life is Beautiful” was put November 2011 and stands as a landmark on Highland and Santa Monica. Einstein’s quote “Life is Beautiful” is in white bold text next to the portrait of Einstein holding a sign that says, “Love is the Answer.” Einstein stands over a pug with a pink heart stenciled over its chest. In addition to Einstein, Gandhi is also incorporated into this mural. Gandhi is also holding a sign that says “Where There Is Love There Is Life.” The murals stands approximately two stories tall and is painted on an all black background.
Theories of Benjamin
Throughout Walter Benjamin’s work he brings up the argument that the means of reproduction whether it may be film or photography of a piece work destroys its aura and original use value. By allowing different means of reproduction the original meaning of the artwork is deteriorated by the amount of changing factors. An example of this argument as used by Walter Benjamin is “An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol.” (Benjamin) A piece of artwork, the statue of Venus, has two different meanings depending on the context in which it is presented and used. As shown the Greeks associated the statue with feelings of great respect whereas the clerics associated it with the complete opposite. The use of reproduction allowed the original use value of the statue.
In addition Benjamin also brings up another interesting point between exhibition and cult value being the two plains in which art is looked at. Cult value is the value that the work is originally intended for. Whereas exhibition value is the value in which art is exhibited or shown in different light. Benjamin then further explains this argument with another example using a high priest and statue. The sacred statue of God is only permitted to be seen by the high priest and no other. “This is done to reduce the amount of emancipation not allowing the cult value to be drowned out by the exhibition value”. (Benjamin)
By the Means of Reproduction
The mural “Life is Beautiful” is open to a variety of different skepticism. The use of two iconic persons in addition to the specific phrases used on the mural tends to keep its viewers pondering what the meaning really is. However one piece of the work sees to stand out most. The phrase “Life is Beautiful.” Due to the popularity and reproduction of this phrase it has been given multi-meanings depending on what context in which its used.
The phrase has been used in anti-war, political, and some government associated graffiti. Famous artist such as Bansky and Shepard Fairey also occasionally incorporate this phrase into works of their own. In addition the phrase has also taken the toll of being a slogan for the artist Mr. Brainwash. It has been cropped and used as a mean of profit being printed and sold on shirts, posters, and different artworks. These different means of production are a perfect example of cult vs exhibition value. The work of art is displayed and put on exhibition rather than limiting the amount of people that can view it. This has allowed the meaning to go from a simple advertisement to a multi-meaning mural.
The use of reproduction on art encourages the amount of lenses it’s looked at through. Public exhibition of Life is Beautiful has allowed different audiences to associate it with different meanings depending on its context. In addition its reproduction has also watered down its original meaning by allowing the art to be shown in different contexts as both art and a fashion statement. I believe that Benjamin’s arguments are strongly exemplified through this mural and can be with any publicly or reproduced piece of work.
Justin Borunda Maciel is a student at California State University Northridge that is majoring in Biotechnology.