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Broken Logic: vandalism, Ai Weiwei and Caminero

21 February 2014

Now here’s a thorny discussion around art, value and vandalism. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a long history of iconoclastic acts against artworks being undertaken on religious, political and aesthetic grounds. There have also been recent acts of vandalism as artistic statements, most notably the ‘Yellowism’ graffiti on one of Tate’s Rothko Seagram murals. The tension inherent in such vandalism is at the heart of what makes Banksy a powerful artist.

But what about an artist purposefully destroying another artist’s work as a statement about the art market and international ideas of value? This is what happened earlier this week when Miami artist Maximo Caminero picked up and dropped an Ai Weiwei vase on display at the Perez Art Museum. Caminero subsequently claimed that he did so as a protest at the money spent by the city and the museum on staging shows with international artists, while ignoring local talent. But, most crucially, Caminero also claimed that he was inspired to this act by the photo of Ai Weiwei himself dropping an ancient Han Dynasty urn, displayed directly behind the vases.

This is quite a statement for the power of an artistic message and for the significance of a good curatorial choice of object relationship. But there were two things that I found really interesting in the discussions that ensued, which both essentially revolved around different ideas of value.

One was a monetary question. According to the Miami New Times, Caminero was immediately contrite on learning the $1 million price tag of the vase saying ‘honestly I had no idea the vase had any value.’ This is surely a bizarre claim, as his protest was at the money spent on bringing in such high-profile art in the first place. It was, rather, the vase’s value as a historical artefact that seemed to upset him, precisely the reason that it is powerful in Ai Weiwei’s work.

By contrast, Ai Weiwei’s response was to emphasise the work as his property, which Caminero had no right to destroy. He told the BBC ‘He can drop whatever he likes to drop, but not other people’s property.’ Whereas, he argued, he owns the ancient Chinese artefacts that he alters for his works. Yet, others would see his own additions/damage as acts of vandalism, destruction of shared cultural property. With some irony, the recent Tate show ‘Art under Attack’, ended with a section on artists acting as iconoclasts. This combination of Ai Weiwei’s work and Caminero’s response would surely have been the perfect ending?

Related Articles

Florida artist destroys Ai Weiwei vase (Imelda Barnard)
Fixed Price? Valuing fake and damaged art (Katy Barrett)

Is the destruction of art ever justified? Let us know what you think in the comments…