NYPD Hunting Artists Behind Brooklyn Bridge Flag Swap Stunt

Who is behind the daring Jasper Johns homage?

Wermke/Leinkauf White American Flags (2014-18). Photo courtesy of Signs & Symbols.

An early morning security breach that saw the American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge replaced with blank white ones, which are traditionally used to indicate surrender, has the New York Police Department speculating that artists may have been responsible, reports Bloomberg. The perpetrators successfully evaded both patrol cars and surveillance equipment during the overnight coup.

The replacement flags, 10 by 11 foot American flags bleached white, were discovered on the morning of July 22 atop the towers at both ends of the bridge, and have since been removed. Based on security footage, the switch is believed to have been carried out by four or five individuals who began crossing the bridge shortly after 3 a.m. on July 22. Around that time, the spotlights aimed at the flags went out. Aluminum pans were found placed over the beacons during the initial police investigation, which closed one lane of traffic.

The strange flags attracted interest on social media channels, with users speculating over whether they indicated the city’s final surrender to gentrification, or Brooklyn’s surrender to Manhattan. The New York Post went with “Hipsters Surrender.” One Twitter user, under the handle @BikeLobby, claimed the flags represented the “surrender of the Brooklyn Bridge bicycle path to pedestrians.” Many in the art community speculated that the perpetrator was none other than Jasper Johns, who created many works consisting of all-white US flags.

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.

For now, the motive behind the flag swap remains a mystery. “This may be somebody’s art project or an attempt to make some sort of statement, but at this time it’s not clear what that statement is,” deputy police commissioner John Miller admitted during a news briefing at police headquarters on the morning of July 23. As far as he can tell, however, the action has “no particular nexus” to terrorism or politics.

Based on the nature of the incident, Miller believes that some of those responsible must have been experienced climbers, possibly due to construction work. Regardless, he added, “this is a security breach and of concern.” Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams was similarly unamused, asking on Twitter if this was “someone’s idea of a joke.”

A former police officer, Adams has announced plans to offer a reward for information that leads to the arrest of suspects. “We won’t surrender our public safety to anyone,” Adams assured New Yorkers in a statement (pun intended?). “Political and social expression, whatever its message may be, has a place in our society, but not at the expense of others’ security.”

This is not the first major security breach at an iconic New York City landmark in recent months. The nearly completed One World Trade Center saw three men parachute off its roof last fall, while in March a New Jersey teen snuck past a sleeping security guard to enter the building and climb up to its roof.

The mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino (L) poses with New York city mayor Bill de Blasio (R), his wife Chirlane McCray (C) and their children Dante and Chiara, in front of the original statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at the Capitoline Museum (Musei Capitolini) near Rome’s city hall during a visit on July 20, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

There’s been no comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio on this most recent incident, probably because the mayor is currently in Italy with his family—a vacation that was very nearly cancelled last week, until Long Island Rail Road employees and the MTA were able to come to terms, averting a potentially devastating strike.

According to the Art Newspaper, the mayor has visited the Musei Capitolini, overlooking the Forum, with his Roman counterpart, Ignazio Marino.

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