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Grand Street Bank Robber Filmed Heist For Art Project

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joseph gibbons nypd photo
Photo: NYPD.

In the hours before New Year’s Eve, a bank robber struck at the Capital One branch at 115 Grand St. (near Bowery). As it turns out, the robbery was anything but routine. The heist was part of an art project by a former MIT professor with a long history in experimental film.

On Friday, 61-year-old Joseph Gibbons was charged with robbery following the Dec. 31 stunt. Police say he made off with about $1000. In an interview with the Post at the Manhattan Detention Complex yesterday, Gibbons said he filmed the whole thing and said he was a little jittery before going ahead with the robbery:

…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… 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.”

Back in November, Gibbons robbed his first bank in Providence, Rhode Island but – much to his chagrin – there wasn’t much media coverage.  So he decided to take his “art” to the big city:

This teller, in Chinatown, he was unflappable … I thought for sure he was pressing the silent alarm button. He didn’t even flinch… The note itself said ‘Yes … this is a bank robbery.’ In the note I asked for large denominations and no dye packs and unfortunately he gave me small denominations and an exploding dye pack… I was filming while I was running down Grand Street into the subway. I felt the dye pack go off while I was running, but I wanted to keep it because I thought it would make a great souvenir.

Afterward, Gibbons went straight to the Bowery Hotel, where he’d checked into a room, and began blabbing about the robbery to anyone who would listen.

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.’ I told them, but they just didn’t pay any attention to the ‘robbed the bank’ part.

A former student turned Gibbons in. The professor hasn’t worked at MIT for a few years, but there’s still a bio on the school’s website:

Gibbons’ work in film and video is characterized by a time-honored approach – that of the artist’s use of his own life as source material, a laboratory for self-observation and experimentation. Though his work is rooted in autobiography – according to critic J. Hoberman, Gibbons “invented a new mode of psychodrama which might be termed the ‘confessional’” – it ultimately subverts that genre. Blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, self and persona, his films and tapes combine a desire to connect, to confess, with a contradictory impulse to confabulate and dissimulate. He has been recognized with fellowships and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the NY State Council on the Arts, the Creative Capital Foundation, The LEF Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation… His last feature film “The Genius” had a month-long run in NYC’s Anthology Film Archives and was included in such festivals as MOMA’s New Directors/New Films, AFI and Rotterdam. His most recent work “Confessions of a Sociopath” was included in “Best Films of the Year” lists in Film Comment and Artforum magazines.

It seems artistic expression was not the only thing on Gibbons’ mind before the Grand Street heist. “What got me over the final hurdle,” he told the Post, “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.”

A judge set his bail at $50,000. Gibbons’ attorney said he is mentally sound.

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