Former MIT Professor Joseph Gibbons Pleads Guilty to Art Project Heist

The artist videotaped himself robbing banks in New York and Rhode Island.

Joe Gibbons. Photo via the Facebook group
Joe Gibbons.
Photo via the Facebook group "Friends of Joe Gibbons."

Artist and former MIT professor Joseph Gibbons learned this week that robbing banks, even in the name of art, will still land you in jail. He pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree this week in a Manhattan court.

Gibbons was arrested in January for a heist staged on December 31 at a Capital One bank in New York’s Chinatown. According to court documents, he made his demands for cash in the form of a polite note asking the teller for a donation for his church, and then took $1,000 (see Artist and Former MIT Professor Robs Banks Claiming It’s His Art).

In November, Gibbons held up a bank in Rhode Island using the same method, and made off with $3,000.

Both times, Gibbons videotaped the theft. “He was doing research for a film,” his cell-mate, Kaylan Sherrard, told the New York Post. “It’s not a crime; it’s artwork…He’s an intellectual.”

Joseph Gibbons robs bank as artwork

Joseph Gibbons robs a bank as an artwork. Photo NYPD.

Documentation of his self-destructive behavior has been a recurring theme in Gibbons’s work. The artist won a 2001 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, as well as a number of subsequent fellowships and awards in the arts. In 2006, his semi-autobiographical video Confessions of a Sociopath was shown at the Whitney Biennial. According to the description on the museum website, the film depicts the artist “shooting heroin, shoplifting, being counseled by a parole officer, and being analyzed on a psychiatrist’s couch.”

Artists often run afoul of the law (see Artist Arrested Again for Titillating New Work), but calling a bank heist “art” is fairly extreme, even by art world standards.

Accordingly, Gibbons’s criminally artistic antics have earned him a year behind bars, as part of his plea deal. Prosecutors reportedly were pushing for a sentence of up to three years, but Justice Laura Ward offered a lesser sentence.

The Post reports that art professors at Columbia, Pratt, MIT, and NYU have raised close to $6,000 for their imprisoned colleague; the Queens Museum is hoping to show the bank heist video following Gibbon’s release.

“This would be an enormous honor for us,” Queens Museum curator Larissa Harris assured the judge in a letter, one of 26 reportedly sent by art-world figures urging Ward to release Gibbons.

Gibbons will be back in court July 13, and might be a free man as early as September, thanks to good behavior and time served since his arrest in January.

According to the New York Daily News, Ward warned Gibbons that if he pulls a stunt like this again, he will face serious consequences.

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