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Friday, February 21, 2014

Dropping a Han Dynasty Vase

"Although the museum can't speak directly to intentions, evidence suggests that this was a premeditated act. This destructive act is vandalism and disrespectful to another artist and his work, to Perez Art Museum Miami, and to our community."
Perez Art Museum Miami spokesperson
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's ''Colored Vases'' are shown at the Perez Art Museum Miami, Florida in this December 3, 2013 photo. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's ''Colored Vases'' are shown at the Perez Art Museum Miami, Florida in this December 3, 2013 photo.   Credit: Reuters/Zachary Fagenson

It can be said, in a sense, that there is a glut on the market for ordinary, albeit ancient earthenware pots from China, produced in huge numbers for the practical household purpose of holding grains, oils, whatever a homemaker of long ago times required to make use of a storage vessel. They can be had for a relatively modest cost for connoisseurs of such objects. Unlike their more glorified cousins, thrown and glazed by masters of the art, from the same period, whose more rare works command extremely high prices for they are rare gems of antiquity.

A display was mounted just recently by the Perez Art Museum in Miami. The display consisting of some art works by one of China's most famous living artists who is also an activist protesting his country's stringent communist authoritarianism. He is feted in the West as much for his art as he is for his representation as a 'prisoner of conscience' in the Peoples Republic of China.

The presentation of his artwork in Miami consisted of a triptych, three images of the artist engaged in theatre art, demonstrating how disposable precious art objects of the past, highly regarded for their creative grace and aesthetic beauty are, and perhaps the message that his own art of here and today is equally priceless as he is regarded as a master.

Ai Wei Wei, the celebrated Chinese artist is a compelling figure of artistry and resistance against oppression and corruption, a symbol beloved of the West. Arrayed on a table before the three photographs were a sampling of his own artwork, ancient vases of doubted value, but transformed into extremely valuable pieces of art because Ai Wei Wei took those clay vases and 'painted' them, giving them his priceless imprimatur.

The first frame of the three photographs show the artist holding a vase, the second shows him deliberately freeing it from his grasp and the final frame is of the vase smashing to smithereens on a hard surface, before his feet. The performance is no doubt considered a masterpiece of theatre art. A powerful message of breath-taking arrogance.

Destroyed: Maximo Caminero is seen holding up the $1 million vase

A Miami artist was so inspired by the actions and the fame of the Chinese artist that he entered the Perez Art Museum, approached the Ai Wei Wei installation and selected one of the artist's vases. And he then proceeded to imitate precisely what the Chinese artist had done with that priceless vase he smashed to make an enduring statement. Maximi Caminero was resolved to express his own enduring statement.

His dismay that the artists of Miami are overlooked in favour of giving exposure to a foreign artist who really doesn't need a leg up with his art to add to his fame.

Mr. Caminero, having lifted one of the "Coloured Vases" in the display was asked by a Museum guard to replace the vase. In response, Mr. Caminero emulated the artist whose work he held by smashing the piece on the ground, a piece purportedly valued at $1-million. Which certainly lent weight to his statement.

Mr. Caminero stated afterward that he deliberately destroyed the vase "for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here". A laudable goal to some, a despicable act of art-pillage to others.

He stated further that he was protesting Miami's museums and galleries that "have spent so many millions now on international artists", giving scant attention to local talent. "It's the same political situation over and over again. I've been here for 30 years and it's always the same" he said. Surely, if Ai Wei Wei could label his act of desecration "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn", to make an artistic statement, another artist could feel entitled to do the same to Ai Wei Wei's art...?

It was an act of pure iconoclasm, the purpose of the original act, an expression of new ideas and values challenging the old.

Mr. Ai had engaged himself usefully in investigating the shoddy construction of schools that contributed to the deaths of countless Chinese schoolchildren when their classrooms collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and for that he deserved applause and admiration. He became a goad in the side of Beijing, perhaps enough of one to ensure that future such events would not occur, that corruption in design and building materials will be halted, as a result of his activism.

When Mr. Ai was informed of Mr. Caminero's act of defiance and blame of neglect on the part of Miami's art cognoscenti by smashing one of his 'priceless' vases, just as Mr. Ai had smashed one of his country's priceless heirlooms to make a point, he was not very pleased. "The argument does not support the act", he said.
"It doesn't sound right. His argument doesn't make much sense. If he really had a point, he should choose another way, because this will bring him trouble to destroy property that does not belong to him."

Depends ... on whose ox is being gored ... or ... whose vase is being destroyed.

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