Brooklyn Bridge Flag Artists Won’t Be Allowed Back to US

Wermke/Leinkauf, Symbolic Threats (2014). Photo courtesy of Signs and Symbols.

In an otherwise interesting profile and interview with the two German artists behind last month’s Brooklyn Bridge flag switch—whereby they swapped out an American flag atop the bridge for a painted over white one—the Guardian acts as though the possibility of the artists being banned from ever re-entering the United States is a surprise. We find that surprising, no matter how one reacts  to the stunt itself—whether with amusement, admiration, anger, or fear.

But the artists admit that they considered the consequences well ahead of time, telling the paper: “We knew that the piece in all probability would prevent us from ever returning to the States. However, it was always clear we would claim responsibility.” So the news here is…what exactly?

The two artists, Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf, came clean about their involvement recently to several media outlets. Their revelation drew a somewhat non-committal response from the NYPD, which, having been embarrassed by the major security breach, launched a massive investigation into the incident. Despite that, the two artists were able to leave the US unhindered. Following commissioner William Bratton’s assertion that the NYPD had a good idea about who was behind the switch, they provided a statement to the Guardian today that seemed less aggressive: “The NYPD is aware of the public statements made by the German artists, Mishcha Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke, in regard to the Brooklyn Bridge flag case. The investigation is continuing.”

Though the artists declined to reveal how they actually carried out the switch, they provide some interesting details about watching the discovery of the white flags unfold, noting how the initial, curious reactions of joggers, tourists, and other onlookers rapidly gave way to a throng of police vehicles and media.

One lane of traffic was stopped during the police investigation of the white flags hoisted to the top of New York's Brooklyn Bridge overnight. Photo: Mark S. Weprin, via Twitter.

One lane of traffic was stopped during the police investigation of the white flags hoisted to the top of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge overnight.
Photo: Mark S. Weprin, via Twitter.

After the artists revealed their identities, reactions “were personally directed at us for the first time. We got some angry emails, but mainly we got feedback we appreciated. There were some really touching statements by people who told us how the piece emotionally amazed them and how it will change their view on the city from now on.”

The post provides interesting background on the two artists: they met as teenagers when they lived on the same street in East Berlin and have carried out projects in Tokyo and Prague. Previous works have included them hanging off  large buildings or bridges and driving a homemade car through Berlin metro tunnels. The Tokyo project also got complicated. Carried out just a few months after the Fukushima disaster, Drifter was performed on rooftops. But  when the artist duo tried, unknowingly they claim, to climb the energy museum of Tepco, the company behind the disaster, they were arrested. Ultimately they were released and finished the piece.



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