Within hours of its appearance on a downtown Manhattan sidewalk, the latest street art installation by rogue British artist Banksy was transformed by an anonymous, unauthorized collaborator into a visual statement of opposition to the administration of the city’s most famous — and beleaguered — art school.

BWdlHtzIMAA6oCrSometime last night or this morning, the priest in the painting was given a bushy white spray-paint beard which rendered him a dead ringer for Peter Cooper, the founder of the Cooper Union. At the same time, the cross that adorned his neck was replaced with a giant Flavor Flav style clock with a red face and hands set just prior to midnight, the symbol of the Free Cooper Union activist movement.

For more than a century Cooper Union, whose campus is just a stone’s throw away from the repurposed painting, has been free to all students accepted for admission. In the wake of a series of disastrous financial developments, however, the college’s administration has announced that they will begin charging admission next fall. The Free Cooper Union movement sprung up in the wake of the tuition announcement to fight to reverse that decision, and to bring other reforms to the university.

Banksy, the notorious and reclusive British graffiti artist, is currently in the middle of a monthlong “residency” in New York city. The new painting, entitled Concrete Confessional, depicts a weary priest.

Free Cooper Union has adopted Peter Cooper as a symbol of their struggle, deploying his likeness and statements in support of free higher education prominently in their campaign.

Image from @StreetArtNews on Twitter.

Update | Now wait just one goddamn minute.

New photos posted to Twitter appear to show a second painting next to Bansky’s original, in which someone who looks extraordinarily like Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha is making confession. Graffiti on the other side of the original piece reads “FREE COOPER.”

I haven’t been able to get down to the site to confirm that all of this is real, but if it is, what we have is a Banksy painting of a sad priest transformed into a triptych — Barucha praying for absolution to Peter Cooper, Cooper bowing his head in dismay, and then the movement’s slogan.

Holy crap.

BWeHNPfIEAAbBWcSecond Update | Yep. It’s real. It’s all real.

A photo from Banksy’s website shows that the original version of the piece didn’t include the painting of the Bharucha lookalike. And the photo at right, taken from a different angle than the previous ones, confirms that the Bharucha add-on isn’t just a photoshop job. (That photo also makes clear, as none of the others I’ve seen do, that the confessor the priest/Cooper figure are painted on the back wall of room-like enclosures, not on a slab inside a concrete frame.)

Someone, sometime last night, conceived and executed a revision of Banksy’s original piece that changed the priest into Peter Cooper and added a penitent Bharucha in exactly the place a confessor would be.


Third Update | Commenter Bob Cooley believes that the Bharucha in prayer was painted over an image of an altarboy that Banksy put up last night, perhaps intended as today’s entry in the monthlong series. Images of the altarboy can be found here and elsewhere.

For whatever it may be worth, there’s no reference to the altarboy at the banksyny.com site, at least not yet. I have no information about whether that painting was by Banksy or was someone else’s addition. If I find out more, I’ll update again.

Oh, and one thing I missed earlier. The “FREE COOPER” graffiti on the right is actually “FREE COOPER: The Musical” graffiti, a play on the October 4 entry in Banksy’s monthlong series.

Fourth Update | Whatever the choirboy was, it wasn’t Banksy’s October 13 offering.

It appears, wacky as it may seem, that the choirboy was added to the piece by an unknown Banksy admirer and then painted over and replaced with the Bharucha image by the pro-Cooper Union folks.