BiP: Yale “Beat Me At My Own Game”

In the wake of his latest public-art coup, the street artist Believe in People issued a manifesto with high praise for Yale’s art gallery—while also appealing to the gallery to hold onto a bronze satirical faux-historical sculpture he created rather than passing it along to an auction, thereby “subverting the principles that we, as a free people, give our lives to.”

That was the latest development in this week’s installment of the ongoing real-world public-art conversation series the artist has conducted with New Haven.

It began when he installed the faux plaque (pictured) on a brick wall outside the Yale University Art Gallery on April Fool’s Day Tuesday. The gallery removed the plaque. (Read the original story here, and original reader debate here.)

Then, as Independent readers voted in favor of preserving the piece, the gallery decided to save the piece. It mounted it for a one-day showing outside the gallery’s entrance on Thursday. (Scroll down in this story for a report on that.) Unless BiP claims the piece, the gallery intends to donate it to the annual Artspace fundraising auction.

In a missive released Thursday night, BiP praised the gallery’s actions and intentions, while taking philosophical exception to the idea of auctioning art. He asked the gallery to hold onto his piece for public viewing; he offered to create a replica for the Artspace auction.

Click here to read the full open letter.

“the museum’s shown a lot of character in adapting to a situation they didn’t ask to be a part of,” wrote BiP, who has challenged Yale’s exclusiveness in other pieces. (The message is written e.e. cummings-style without capital letters at the start of sentences.) “it’s not all acquisitions and black tie galas; most of the time you’re dealing with legal issues, restorations, building maintenance, a thousand other practical minutiae that have nothing to do with the art itself.”

Then, referring to his latest piece, a humorous formal depiction of the work of a hip-hop graffiti artist, he wrote, “on top of all the other million things you had to manage on limited resources, you have to respond to a barrage of people that are pissed off because you don’t want words like ‘boobz’ and ‘ass’ on the front of your building.”

He wrote that he believes “this is the first time an Ivy League institution (never mind a museum) has publicly shown support for illegal graffiti in a world where threatened art lords are desperately trying to put graffiti back in the box as some half-baked fad from 2007 ... that’s brave.”

“.. they beat me at my own game.”

Then BiP made his appeal to keep the piece rather than turn it over tot he Artspace fundraiser. He called it “not morally justifiable to auctiona piece of art. that’s Banksy 101 and where the dialogue was ten years ago. it goes against everything I’ve ever fought for and everything I believe in. and if you think i’m going to take my piece back from the public I gave it to, you don’t understand how much I love New Haven. I go all out for my city. I would never betray them that way.”

He recommended keeping the piece on display in the museum’s collection “for free viewing” or else destroying it “to ensure that it will never be used to subvert the principles that we, as free people, give our lives to.”

“I loved this piece,” BiP wrote. “it might be the first half-decent piece of art I’ve made. but I would rather see it destroyed than corrupted.”

“it’s not morally justifiable to auction a piece of public art.”

An earlier version of this story follows:

Yanique Believes

Paul Bass PhotoYanique Joseph thought she had finished browsing Yale’s art gallery Thursday when, after exiting the building, she ran into a surprise new piece.

It was a work of art that in the course of two days traveled from momentary open-air guerrilla street hanging to the trash heap to a new life as one-day, glass-encased outdoor mounting en route to an unknown next destination.

The piece is a bronze faux “National Register of Historic Places” plaque commemorating the oeuvre of fictional graffiti artist “Boobz,” aka Sam Dilvan (an anagram for “Vandalism”).

Renowned street artist Believe in People created the plaque and then affixed it Tuesday (April Fool’s Day) morning to a brick wall outside the Yale University Art Gallery on Chapel Street. The gallery promptly removed the plaque. Then, as Independent readers voted in favor of preserving the piece, the gallery decided to save the piece. It mounted it for a one-day showing outside the gallery’s entrance on Thursday. Unless Believe in People claims the piece within two weeks, the gallery plans to donate it to the annual charity auction to benefit Artspace. (Click here to read the original story about the episode.)

The gallery planned to leave the piece out until 8 p.m. closing time Thursday. A crowd was expected to pass by around 5:30 en route to a gallery lecture by MoMA chief Glenn D. Lowry on Islamic art.

As of 5 p.m., there was no sign of Believe in People. (Reached by email, he declined comment.)

I Love New Haven website’s Chris Randall, who photographed the piece in its original location before it disappeared Tuesday morning, was back outside the gallery Thursday morning capturing the new temporary installation.

Joseph (pictured at the top of the story), who runs a New Haven-based not-for-profit called Green Cities Green Villages, was leaving the gallery after popping in for a visit. She stopped to read both Believe in People’s plaque ...

... as well as the gallery’s explanatory note.

She loved it.

“I think it’s great political theater or community theater,” she said. “And it’s good for the museum. It makes people want to come here. It happened coincidentally on April Fool’s Day, but it worked out.”

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posted by: HewNaven on April 3, 2014  7:15pm

YUAG is a city treasure, and they played this one well. And, that faux plaque was very convincing, even up-close. But, I was kind of hoping to find it ‘tagged’ Salovey wuz here. That was a big disappointment.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on April 3, 2014  9:21pm

Excellent all around. Went by today to check it out and spend some extra time in the sculpture garden. The note great as well.

Though I like the idea of the auction, seeing the piece in the glass with the gallery note really does make for some potentially timeless art for the gallery itself.

I would consider holding on to it if I was Yale.

posted by: DingDong on April 3, 2014  9:24pm

I’m no art critic, but ihis is potentially a brilliant piece of self-mockery by YUAG.  I can’t tell if it’s intentional or not, but they take a piece of street art that mocks their status as guardians of high-art and they put it inside a glass case and put a plaque next to it—-outside back on the street.  It’s coopting the street art but doing it an absurd, over-the-top way: a glass case on the street?  A plaque next to a plaque?  Somehow this is brilliant; maybe someone more articulate can explain why.

posted by: Bill Saunders on April 4, 2014  1:33am

Ding Dong,

All of that is well and good, but the decision to give it to ‘somebody’ else to auction off, and basically use as an advertisement for ‘their’ organization, that steps over the line.

posted by: robn on April 4, 2014  7:06am

YUAG can’t keep it. To do so would invite droves of others who want the status of having their work in that collection.
IMHO, The piece is mildly funny but the language is weak. Artful, but not great art.

posted by: robn on April 4, 2014  9:24am

I read BIP’s “manifesto” after my last post and now I’m more convinced at his/her insincerity. Its highly disingenuous for BIP to claim that a major gallery should maintain BIP’s artwork “for the public” when the primary beneficiary of having that work in the YUAG collection is BIP (the status would immensely benefit the artist).

posted by: HewNaven on April 4, 2014  10:13am

robn makes a good point. As much as we all are entertained by BiP, no one can deny that he specializes in self-aggrandizing art.

posted by: HewNaven on April 4, 2014  10:17am

I vote for ‘public destruction’ of the artwork.

posted by: Paul Wessel on April 4, 2014  10:52am

Well played everyone.  My suggestion:  BiP gives YUAG a replica for the auction and takes back the original, which I hope floats around New Haven for periodic performances.

The picture of Chris Randall “randallizing” the plaque gave me an idea:  If YUAG was willing to produce a similar but large plexiglass display case (with some air holes!), Chris might enjoy spending a day shooting photos from there.  It would be a great show of life imitating art imitating life imitating art….or something like that. 

And we could post on SeeClickFix that there was some guy invading our privacy at the Yale Art Gallery.

Might have to work a video-equipped drone into the event too….

posted by: David S Baker on April 4, 2014  11:02am

Perhaps some articles on the exhibits inside the building too?  You can mock the museum for elitism until you are blue in the face, but it IS filled with items that have survived a far longer stretch of tumultuous history while being scrutinized by generations of elitist jerks and have survived and been prized for something that most consider tangible but inherently nonexistent.  Also most were not dependent on grammatical irony and covertly glued to a building after being quickly fabricated by an anonymous attention whore.  Seriously NHI… THREE CENTER COLUMN ARTICLES on this fool when works like ‘The Night Café”  and carvings from every culture and period of history are sitting inside?

posted by: William Kurtz on April 4, 2014  11:50am

“Seriously NHI… THREE CENTER COLUMN ARTICLES on this fool when works like ‘The Night Café”  and carvings from every culture and period of history are sitting inside?”

Yes, for Pete’s sake, it’s about time someone gave some attention to The Night Café.

posted by: gj789 on April 4, 2014  3:26pm

I agree with BenBerkowitz below that Yale should just hold on to it, or at least destroy it rather than selling a piece of art belongs to the PUBLIC to private collectors. I’ve noticed this artist’s works popping up in a lot of media the past few years, seems like they put a lot of thought into the works and they all got some sort of positive message.

Holding on to a piece of LOCALLY created art would be a refreshing way for the Gallery to help bridge the divide between its Ivy league walls and the local community here in New Haven. Is the surrounding community not fundamentally a part of the university? Seems like a great opportunity to show they’re open-minded and up with the times

posted by: OrangeStreet on April 4, 2014  3:29pm

Believe in People is an important New Haven institution, producing thought-provoking work. His or her work challenges us to reconsider the relationship between Yale and the community around it. The University NEEDS to retain this piece.

posted by: OrangeStreet on April 4, 2014  3:31pm

If the university does not retain the piece, they should destroy it.

posted by: YC2010 on April 4, 2014  3:36pm

I think money should not be involved.  YUAG has already gotten good publicity for the event.  Perhaps give it to the Pundits, Rumpus, or Blood and Clown?

If the money were going to feed starving children, I would be more sympathetic to the idea.

I’d like to believe that keeping it where it is would be an option, but I can’t help but think there might be a better solution more amenable to all.

posted by: New Have on April 4, 2014  3:37pm

The museum should hold on to the plaque.. auctioning it for charity has good intentions, but a piece like this should not be sold or commercialized. It should be preserved for viewing.

posted by: jjcraig on April 4, 2014  4:38pm

First, I want to show my support for public art. BIP’s brings up an interesting point—public art is difficult to commission, reward, and cultivate. I would like to view this as an opportunity to reflect more deeply into new ways to encourage public art that is a de-commodified, publicly shared experience. This is an opportunity to innovate and discover a modern position that embraces public art in an unprecedented way, and privately auctioning a piece commercializes and privatizes art, and subverts its context in a pretty tragically ironic way (however good the intention).

posted by: JudyLove on April 4, 2014  4:55pm

I would keep it. At the rate BiP has been performing as an artist, it’s a shrewd investment for the university to hang on to it.

Artspace should distance itself, because if they accept the plaque, they’ll essentially be saying, “we don’t care about artists’ intentions, and we are going to display it on our own or sell it anyway.”

BiP should try to avoid the press more, though.  A little goes a long way, BiP.

posted by: mlkn on April 4, 2014  5:09pm

I don’t think YUAG should get into the business of auctioning off art against the wishes of the artist.

posted by: lana_duong on April 4, 2014  5:25pm

Yale should keep it. If BiP spent so much time and work to give to the public, Yale should honor the artist’s intentions and not desecrate the art piece. Public art meant for public art should remain that way.

Beside, it seems to be garnering a lot of attention already from the public, and I think that’s a good thing.

posted by: HewNaven on April 4, 2014  5:25pm


There is no divide between YUAG and the community. That’s all in your mind. Their doors are open to residents. You just have to walk through.

posted by: Albatross on April 4, 2014  5:53pm

But if Yale hangs on to the plaque that puts it in private, not public, hands.  I don’t see why BiP (or an agent, if he wants to remain anonymous) doesn’t just claim the work if it shouldn’t be auctioned.

posted by: abiss27 on April 4, 2014  8:08pm

It would be complete blasphemy for this piece to be sold. Since BiP clearly hasn’t/will not claim his piece, the YUAG should do as he wished in the letter…and since it is such a great piece, I don’t think should not be destroyed. If YUAG holds on to it for free public viewing, that would be huge for the art and graffiti world. This is the future of art, and once institutions such as this begin to appreciate and accept it, then it means we are moving into a new era, an era in which art is free and accessible to all - much like the YUAG is set up to be. YUAG’s claim of free art should extend to this piece of graffiti as well.

posted by: Ozyck on April 4, 2014  8:32pm

Dave- where is this night cafe? I can’ t find it on yelp.

posted by: cuckoo213 on April 4, 2014  10:44pm

The YUAG should either keep and treasure this piece of public art or destroy it as the artist requested.

Public art is free and was put there for the enjoyment of all.

posted by: LeeRoyals on April 6, 2014  4:49am

I think the gallery should respect the wishes of the artist and the artists intent while creating the piece. Also, an auction would make YUAG some money, but would be a pretty uninspired end to this story.

posted by: Guston on April 6, 2014  8:11pm

I still don’t get the excessive love for BiP on this site, or elsewhere.  His work is okay, but highly derivative.  He has some work in NH that adds something to the fabric of the city, but lately he comes off, as has been noted by others, as self-aggrandizing.  This piece in particular.  Also, I’m glad YUAG and the British Art Center are here.  They offer free access to incredible works of art. ANYONE can go see them during their operating hours.  And, if memory serves, they DO collect and show the work of New Haven based artists (and not just Yale Alums).  So…hardly an evil gatekeeper.
Still, this plaque doesn’t do much. Meh.  Doesn’t this city have any other street artists.  Surely someone must have something more interesting to say.

posted by: youngcocoabutter on April 7, 2014  12:22am

some interesting comments here. self-aggrandizing or not, the fact that this many folks are engaged in a pubic debate about a fairly straightforward, pretty hilarious piece could be a testament to the value this piece, and even this form of art, provides to a city. let the debate continue!

and btw, YUAG should keep the piece. no one would actually expect it, and who better to keep local public opinion on its toes than a fancy university gallery? also, with the amount of space yale takes up in new haven, it’s been nice to see one of its many arms acknowledging criticism and even being inclusive to modern artistic expression.

posted by: DingDong on April 7, 2014  10:37am

I agree with those who think BiP overplayed this one.  YUAG made a good-faith effort to do the right thing; it has no obligation to keep it.  If BiP doesn’t want it to be sold, then he should send someone to pick it up.

posted by: wildcherry on April 7, 2014  12:24pm

public art doesn’t belong in private hands. bip made this as a humorous gift to the city. his or her work has pushed the bounds of street art and sparked debate about peace and equality, democracy, and art in new haven. as another commenter said, someone should honor the works he’s done and dedicate a whole gallery to him. there is no doubt he is an artist, one who is defined by and passionate about his work. how can you not be passionate about something that earns you no money and could land you in jail? he has nothing but love for new haven and is an inspiration to the rest of us who are so far removed from our dreams.

posted by: Mary Lou on April 8, 2014  10:51pm

The University should retain Bip’s work. It is unimaginable if someone would have a piece of art destroyed. It is a gift from BiP to the people in New Haven. If they don’t retain BiP’s work, the University might not look to smart 5 years or 10 years from now when BiP’s art becomes collector’s item.

posted by: Fawnz on April 9, 2014  4:30pm

The appearance of this plaque has raised art awareness and brought about a considerable amount of debate. If not today or tomorrow, the Yale University Art Gallery will be glad to have kept this unique piece of art work that leaves me wanting to see more of BIP’s work.

posted by: Drew K. on April 9, 2014  8:30pm

I would love for the YUAG to retain the piece for its collections, as this comment thread exemplifies how the plaque has generated new interest in art from students and the surrounding community.  As an alumnus of the university, it is these stories that reignite my love for Yale and its compassionate town-gown relationship.  I would certainly visit the YUAG in the future if I could see works like this in their evolving collection.

posted by: 14chainz on April 11, 2014  1:06am

Finally BiP is getting some official recognition from the YUAG. I guess for awhile now Yale hasn’t known quite what to make of this guy/girl, he/she’s hyper-modern and is initiating a public discussion about the role of art in society that is fresh. Art every now and then gets stuck and needs artists like this to move visual art forward.
In keeping with the spirit of this work, I hope they don’t auction it off. This was a free gift to the public and should remain that way.