In my (never really completed) essay on transgression in art, I noted that “if transgression were to be defined exclusively in terms of violating the law, performance sports an impressive rap sheet of criminality…” A mostly amusing side-note to the sorts of troubling performance transgression I was concerned with is the story of how that rap-sheet now includes bank robbery.
In November 2014, Joe Gibbons—an experimental filmmaker and one-time professor at MIT—robbed a bank in Providence, RI as part of a video art project. As he told the NY Post in a lengthy article (performance art bank robbery? Of course the Post has been all over the story of the person it terms “the nutty professor”), “I tried to make it a funny note, something to get it on the news. The upsetting thing there was that the teller was jolted by the note. It really upset her.” The note suggested that the money—$3,000 in total—was for his church. Gibbons followed up on New Year’s Eve 2014 by robbing a Manhattan Capitol One, escaping with $1,002. He was caught shortly thereafter.
Anyway, I came across a follow-up on Hyperallergic last week, after Gibbons’s sentencing. The Hyperallergic piece is essentially a restatement of another Post article from February, noting that a variety of art critics, artists, and curators, including the head of the Queens Museum, had written letters of support to the court on Gibbons’s behalf, urging a light sentence. Queens Museum curator Larissa Harris even noted: “Once he is released, I hope to help him by extending an invitation to screen his work at the Queens Museum. This would be an enormous honor for us.”
I don’t have much to add to this story, which is by turns sad (Gibbons acknowledged that partly he did it just because he needed the money) and irritating (because it’s just an excuse for art-bashing by the Post), but it did remind me of something else I wrote in my essay:
Performance transgression has stopped its forward march to toe the line of what causes damaging lawsuits and undeniable criminal charges. Yet I suspect that even if such acts were performed in the name of art, as an art act, that at this point in time, our discourse would be sufficiently tolerant to broker dissent. That some critic would publish essays exploring the peculiar aesthetic value of the gesture or act, and that said essays it would be published by a reputable press, or, at the very least, become a cause célèbre.