Brooklyn Bridge-Pranking Artists Release Press Packet for “White American Flags”

August 12, 2014 | Bucky Turco

Although they gave the New York Times the exclusive on their alleged American flag-swapping endeavor on the Brooklyn Bridge, German artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke have also put together a press package for media outlets following up the story. They’re calling the stunt an “art project” entitled White American Flags. Unfortunately, the zip file didn’t contain any incontrovertible evidence that they did it, but it does give some more background on their July action. For example, the duo say they treated the stars and stripes with “respect and followed the U.S. Flag Code” and that the “return of the original flags is in progress.”

Below is the email response they sent:

Thank you for your interest in the work of Wermke/Leinkauf.

Due to a large number of recent press inquiries personal replies may take longer than usual.
Thank you for your patience.

Press information regarding our recent piece “White American Flags” can be downloaded here:

The password is “whiteflags2014“

best regards



In the download they sent, there were three folders, one of which contained their CV, natch and the other two showing some of their “previous works” as well as some daytime photos of the white American flags (see in gallery above). They also included the following press release:

Berlin, August 13th, 2014

White American Flags

Artists Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf replaced Old Glory for White American Flags on Brooklyn
Bridge on the 145th anniversary of its architect’s death.

    “Suddenly you see this steel poetry […]. It puts everything to shame and makes you wonder what else we could have done that was so marvelous and so unpresumptuous. […] He [John A. Roebling] really aspired to do something gorgeous. So it makes you feel that maybe you, too, could add something that
    would last and be beautiful.”

– Arthur Miller (in ”Brooklyn Bridge“ by Ken Burns, 1981)

White American Flags is an art project

White American Flags is an art project by Wermke/Leinkauf. The interventions of the internationally acclaimed artist duo take place in urban environments and address questions of historical legacy and art in the public sphere. Videos, installations and artistic transgressions of the two native Berliners have been published and exhibited widely.

Brooklyn Bridge, July 21st/22nd
In the night from July 21st to July 22nd Wermke/Leinkauf hoisted two hand-sewn white American flags on the towers of Brooklyn Bridge. They were careful to treat the bridge and the flags with respect and followed the U.S. Flag Code. The return of the original flags is in progress.

Like an empty canvas, White American Flags invites many readings, multiple interpretations and projections.

John August Roebling and Washington August Roebling
White American Flags refers to the German-born American architect of the Brooklyn Bridge, John August Roebling, who left his Thuringian hometown Mühlhausen in 1831 in search of a better future in the land of freedom and opportunity. He was a pioneer in the field of suspension bridges and his creations have become landmarks and unique architectural pieces of American history. Tragically, Roebling did not live to see the completion of his greatest work, the Brooklyn Bridge. He was injured in an on-site accident and died on July 22nd 1869. His son, Washington August Roebling, completed the masterpiece fourteen years later. He died on July 21st 1926.

The neo-gothic towers of the bridge were inspired by Roebling’s baptistery, the Divi Blasii in Mühlhausen. Before coming to the U.S. the artists attended a church service at Divi Blasii with the two white American flags in their possession. It is not clear whether Roebling intended to include flagpoles: at any rate, the display of flags has been subject to some controversy and flagpoles have not always been a feature of the towers.

A tradition of public art, uncommissioned work and artistic transgressions
White American Flags recalls Jasper Johns’s flag pieces. In 1954/5 they sparked an emotional debate about art and the symbolic meaning of the American flag. Today, the pieces are on view at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. White American Flags abandons the museum and returns art to the real world. The project thus stands in the tradition of uncommissioned art in the public sphere: Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End (Pier 52) (1975), Philippe Petit’s high wire walk between the Twin Towers (1974), Tehching Hsieh’s Outdoor Piece (1981/82) and Gelitin’s B-Thing (2001).

All these pieces were created in New York. The city has always been a magnet for artists, a metropolis praised as “the global center of creativity,” where new progressive art has its place.


(Photos: Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke)