Artist smashes Weiwei vase
Pertinent questions are being asked about what art is, what constitutes an artist and what can be repurposed, following the deliberate destruction of one of the vases that make up Ai Weiwei’s According to What?, the opening exhibition at the brand new Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).
Maximo Caminero, a 51-year-old artist from Florida, has been charged with criminal mischief, after he destroyed the $1 million (approximately £599,597) in protest at the establishment’s focus on international art from the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
Police officers were told by one of the museum’s security guards that he saw the Mr Caminero pick up the vase – the first frowned upon act – and when told to return it to its rightful place, instead smashed it on the floor in front of him.
Speaking to the Miami New Times, the local painter, who was described as being ‘reasonably well known’, said that the spontaneous act of rebellion was a statement of protest in support of all the “artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here”.
“I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei’s photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it,” he explained. “And I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest. If you saw the vases on display and the way they were painted there was no way one would think the artist had painted over an ancient artefact.”
It is a solid argument, artistically speaking, especially the last point. The vase that was smashed by Weiwei was not some generic, mass produced object, but a Han Dynasty urn that was of cultural significance.
The Chinese artist himself has not only destroyed something himself, but, also, through his appropriation of the urns, from a certain point of view, ruined something special. That is, however, contextual, as it would only matter if, of course, the vases are authentic. No-one can say for certain, the ambiguity doing injustice to everyone who loves art.
“What does his attack on Han art mean?,” asks the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones, who admits that he is left confused by the gesture. What is it the work is saying?
“I want to see it as a devastating satire on the modern world’s alienation from the past,” he wrote recently.
“Ever since the Chinese Revolution began in the early twentieth century, political and economic ruptures have cut off China in particular from its ancient culture. Is Ai Weiwei parodying that? Or is he mocking western art-lovers who think all Chinese art is ancient?”
So, in conclusion, as Mr Jones point out, if an artist of Weiwei’s renown deliberately and provocatively smashes something, be it culturally valuable or not, it is considered an ingenious work of art, an intellectual hoorah. However, if a relative nobody does the same thing, everyone is quick to label him a vandal, a criminal, a desperate wannabe with nothing interesting to say.
It is a fickle world, where the winners are applauded for false victories and the losers, who battle everyday to be heard, to live and breathe and feel free, are sidelined and scorned. This case is different on so many levels, but that’s what makes it so interesting.
Weiwei battles daily to be recognised in China, his work censored in his country of birth, so an international presence is needed, warranted even, but surely he would be the first to agree that the hypocrisy surrounding the sabotage of his own art is problematic if his own destruction of something valuable was authentic.
You have to have some give.
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