A desperate man driven to crime, an experimental filmmaker gathering material — or both? This week, acclaimed avante garde artist and former MIT lecturer Joe Gibbons pled guilty to robbing a New York bank, a heist he captured on film with the apparent intention of using the footage in an upcoming project.

Reports the Boston Globe:

Gibbons walked into a Capital One branch on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on New Year’s Eve and reportedly handed the teller a note announcing the robbery, using a pink-and-silver video camera to capture the transaction as the teller handed him $1,002, authorities said.

Gibbons, who pleaded guilty this week to burglary in the third degree, reportedly planned to use the heist footage in an upcoming film.

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Gibbons — whose MIT bio describes his work as “blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, self and persona, [combining] a desire to connect, to confess, with a contradictory impulse to confabulate and dissimulate” — has been detained since his January arrest. While behind bars, he gave an interview to the New York Post explaining his actions:

“I left a message with my girlfriend’s sister and I told her, ‘Yeah, I’ve got into the city, I’ve got myself a room at The Bowery Hotel, I filed for Social Security, I robbed the bank and I went to the drugstore,’” the 61-year-old told The Post in an exclusive interview at the Manhattan Detention Complex on Sunday. “I told them, but they just didn’t pay any attention to the ‘robbed the bank’ part.”

Gibbons said that he had to work up the courage to do his New Year’s Eve holdup, which he filmed for what he called an art project.

“But to be honest, I stood outside the bank talking into the camera for quite a while … going over the different reasons to do it and not to do it,” he said. “The police detective told me that they had me on film outside the bank for quite a while … that’s probably why the [camera] battery started going dead during the actual robbery.”

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It’s not the first time by any means that Gibbons has toed the line between reality and art, the Globe points out:

Gibbons has often blurred that line in his own work, going as far back as a prank in 1977, when the filmmaker “liberated” a painting by Richard Diebenkorn from the Oakland Museum by tucking it under his shirt. Gibbons, then 24, later returned the painting, but kept the frame as “ransom,” a negotiating ploy for a mock activist group, the Art Liberation Front.

Existing somewhere between autobiography, cinema verite, and performance art, his 2002 film “Confessions of a Sociopath” features Gibbons shoplifting, shooting heroin, talking to his parole officer, and being analyzed by a psychiatrist. Meanwhile in his 1995 film, “Barbie’s Audition,” Gibbons interrogates one of the iconic dolls, demanding, “Who were you out with last night? Who were you out with!”

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The filmmaker did admit to the Post, however, that he also had a more traditional reason for robbing the bank:

“What got me over the final hurdle was the desperation of not having any money and not having a place to stay, not having anything to eat, that’s what gave me the final desperation to do it,” he said.

The New York robbery came on the heels of an earlier heist he apparently pulled on a bank in Providence, Rhode Island in November (he’s yet to be charged in that case; see side-by-side surveillance camera images in the screen grab atop this post).

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Since his arrest, Gibbons has received letters of support from fellow artists, an offer to exhibit his bank-robbery footage, and has had a crowdfunding site for legal and other expenses set up in his name. The Globe reports he’ll be formally sentenced July 13.

Image via WPRI

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