February 17, 2014

Why did the artist break the $1 million Ai Weiwei vase?

1. Look at this picture of the entire room, with 3 big photos of Ai Weiwei dropping what is (supposedly) an ancient Chinese vase. In the middle of the room, on a low platform, not protected or roped off in any way, are 16 vases, which may or may not be ancient, which have been dipped in garish bad paint. What is this supposed to mean?

2. Now, we get the news that "Maximo Caminero, a well-known local painter," walked into the room (which is at the PĂ©rez Art Museum Miami), picked up one of the vases and let it drop, and "I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here. They have spent so many millions now on international artists. It's the same political situation over and over again. I've been here for 30 years and it's always the same." We're told the vase was worth $1 million, but Caminero says he didn't know that and feels "so sorry about it, for sure."

3. But Caminero also suggests that he perceived an interactive display, with the photographs intended to convey Ai Weiwei's message that they should follow his example and, as in the photographs, drop a vase and break it, and this seems to make sense in light of the apparent cheap crappiness of the vases out there unprotected on the floor:
"It was a spontaneous protest... I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei's photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it. 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 artifact... Instead I thought it was a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot, frankly.... I lifted the Vase and let it smash on the floor like WeiWei did in his picture then waited for authorities peacefully and never resisted punishment.... But honestly I had no idea the vase had any value. I admire Ai Weiwei greatly and have always supported his actions while he was suffering indignities from the Chinese government."
4. Ai Weiwei presents the vases as dating back to "China's Neolithic period, making them anywhere from 5,500 to 7,000 years old, and have been dipped in cheap, garishly colored industrial paint." Could this possibly be true? Would he wreck ancient vases like that? The linked story says: "Given the historical context, Ai's vandalistic alterations to the vases makes for a stirring and visually striking metaphor for the conflict between East and West, a conflict between culture and commercialism." That's the sort of tedious text one is used to reading on cards stuck to walls in museums, but perhaps that is satire. I find it hard to believe the vases are actually ancient.

5. Whether the vases are actually ancient and whether they are individually worth $1 million...



... (and not simply easily replaceable objects in an assemblage that as a whole is worth $1 million) and whether Ai Weiwei intended to convey the message that visitors should do what he is doing in the photographs and pick up a vase and break it, isn't it believable that Caminero genuinely understood that to be the message?

6. Was it the message?

31 comments:

David said...

Conspiracy theory: Mr. drop-drop is in cahoots with the owners of the vase who need cash badly and can't wait to see it so they arranged to destroy it and get the insurance.

Hey, it could be.

David said...

"sell it"

Meade said...

Oh come on. So he broke up a musty old vase. It isn't like he broke up the Beatles.

Ann Althouse said...

Conspiracy theory #2: Mr. drop-drop is in cahoots with Ai Weiwei and part of the performance.

(But then the police better be in on it too…)

Michael K said...

This is one more example of "modern art" in the post-reality world we live in.

I accompanied my daughter to the London Museum of Modern Art a few years ago. It was interesting. I wondered how the curators would handle the "sculpture" of a fish created with nails and string on a piece of cheap wood. The string looked about to give out.

There was worse, though. A rotting shark in a tank of formalin and a tin of the artists feces which was leaking.

All in the name of art.

Sigivald said...

"I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here. They have spent so many millions now on international artists."

So, destroy another artist's work because the museums in Miami aren't showing enough local work for you?

What an insufferable prat.

madAsHell said...

1. Mr. Drop-drop was over-gratified during potty training.
Look, I pooped out something. Give me an M-n-M.
Look, I made art. Put me in a museum.

2. Museums are supported by tax dollars, and patron tax deductions. This is your tax dollars at work.

madAsHell said...

"Ai WeiWei'd Up"

-Barack Obama

David said...

Being.

And nothingness.

Sam L. said...

"Does anybody really care" what time it is, or was, or those vases were?

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Caminero, local Miami artist who was born in the Dominican Republic.

Henry said...

Maximo Caminero better keep an eye out for terracotta warriors. They don't like vase droppers.

rcocean said...

I can tell you what it means. It means that nutty people are going to get the message that its OK to vandalize and destroy Art if you happen to have some kind of beef - or half-assed "message" you wish to send.

So look for more copy cat Art destruction.

Big Mike said...

His name isn't pronounced "I wee-wee," is it? Wouldn't that be a dead giveaway that this whole story is a hoax?

Charlie said...

"Mr. Drop-drop was over-gratified during potty training. Look, I pooped out something. Give me an M-n-M. Look, I made art. Put me in a museum."

Thank you.

mccullough said...

The insurance company better be in on it, too

Howard said...

Current Art Scene unintentional Parody: superficially Derived combining van Gogh craziness with mercenary, faux-industrial Warhol. Bob Ross would say: a happy accident

SMSgt Mac said...

Odd. I went to the Kimbell this weekend to catch one of the last days of "The Age of Picasso and Matisse" and there was quite a bit of that there furrin' art stuff, most of which I did not care for very much. But I did not feel any urge to destroy it to make way for some local boy's work. Does this mean I don't love art?/sarc
(Frickin' Idiot)

Ann Althouse said...

Would an insurance company really insure 16 vases, each for one million, to be entirely exposed on the floor level like that?

Seems implausible.

sydney said...

Could an artist, even a famous artist, manage to purchase that many Chinese artifacts? I doubt it. Mr. Art Destroying Artist was no doubt correct when he said they came from Home Depot. Should be easy for Mr. Weiwei to replace.

Smilin' Jack said...

Would an insurance company really insure 16 vases, each for one million, to be entirely exposed on the floor level like that?

Never. Insurance companies are way too smart for that. But AIG would insure them for ten billion each, because then, hello, too big to fail.

mtrobertsattorney said...

By post-modern standards, isn't it art to destroy art? And the greater the art destroyed, the more profound the is the act of destruction.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

'The state's monopoly on the legitimate use of force... may arguably be the single greatest civilizing innovation... In being transferred to the state, violence changed form but did not disappear. Violence can converted back to its direct form at any time.' From Soldaten

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Let's posit that the work as a whole is worth $1 million. Destroying one vase destroys that work of art. It no longer exists in the artist's original realization.

It's obviously possible to construct another very similar work of art from the remaining vases. The artist need do no work other than to leave the remaining pieces as is.

The new work might be worth less than $1 million, or it might be worth a lot more, due to the publicity of the vandalism.

Under the law, should the vandal get credit for the value of the new work?

John Lynch said...

I don't care about the dollar value. Destroying objects from the distant past, intentionally, is vandalism.

And if I destroyed some Anasazi pottery that I found the feds would see it as vandalism, too.

Jeff Teal said...

Yes but did Ai Wei Wei destroy the art and archaeological value of the original vases by dipping them in industrial paint?

Fred said...

The vases themselves are almost certainly not owrth much. It is the fact that Mr. Wei-Wei has designed them as Art that gives them value. Have we learned nothing from Duchamp's Fountain?

Ann Althouse said...

The piece was already about destruction of ancient vases, which is why it's at least plausible that Caminero read/misread the exhibit to be an activity in which museum-goers would destroy the phony vases.

Ai Weiwei could be lying about the vases actually being old, could have some modern mass-produced pots that he dipped in paint, and might have a thousand of them, with instructions to the museum to keep 16 of them out on the little platform at any given time.

How do you know that is not the case?

pst314 said...

"It's obviously possible to construct another very similar work of art from the remaining vases. The artist need do no work other than to leave the remaining pieces as is."

And title the pieces "Art Crime 3".

Lawrence Klepper said...

Scatter the broken pieces around the other ones and change the title to See What Happens When You ...