A couple of weeks ago in But Is It Art I wrote about a group of people who “scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.” The artists/perpetrators did not identify themselves or provide any information beyond the act itself.
Two German artists recently took credit for the act, and provided credible evidence substantiating the claim. The NY Times reported that:
Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke, say the flags — with hand-stitched stars and stripes, all white — had nothing to do with terrorism. In a series of phone interviews, they explained that they only wanted to celebrate “the beauty of public space” and the great American bridge whose German-born engineer, John Roebling, died in 1869 on July 22, the day the white flags appeared….Mr. Wermke then cited a remark by Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist, whom the two Germans admire. Mr. Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center almost exactly 40 years ago.
Why did you do it? he was asked.
“There is no why,” he responded.
German Artists Say They Put White Flags on Brooklyn Bridge NY Times 8-12-14
Apparently they underestimated the fear many New Yorker’s would likely have to all this. The Times reports, they had conducted similar projects in other places around the world “and they claimed to be somewhat taken aback by the reception here.”
While this seems to me some combination of disingenuousness and sloppy post-conceptual art making, the crux, for my purposes, is Matthias Wermke’s recounting of Petit’s remark “There is no why”.
However difficult to define art may be, the impossible ideas of “art for art’s sake” and a non-utilitarian utilitarianism, are likely to be part of any discussion about art and its embodiments.
Recently, in an interview promoting his newest book Creativity: the perfect crime Philippe Petit revised his earlier remark somewhat:
To be able to create fully, it’s maybe fine that you learn the rules, but you have to forget and to rebel against those rules. … In a bank heist, you steal, you rob, you take away. In an illegal high-wire walk, you bring forth, you inspire, you give a gift — the gift of beauty and inspiration. … The big difference is, you don’t take, you give.
I’m guessing something like this was the “why” behind Leinkauf and Wermke’s’ bridge installation. Given their admiration for Philippe Petit and his close connection with New York and the World Trade Center, it’s ironic they missed the inevitable associations their audience would make.