Miami performance artist Maximo Caminero walked into the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, entered a special exhibit of sixteen ancient Chinese vases painted over in bright colors by celebrated Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, picked up one of them, and immediately after a security guard instructed him not to touch the exhibit, allowed the vase to fall from his hands, shattering into bits. Some strange and interesting details of the incident:
- He did not say “Oopsie!”
- In fact, he admitted that smashing the pottery was intentional, and was his protest against in support of local artists like himself whose work is not exhibited at the museum while the art of international artists like Weiwei is.
- The painted vase the 51-year-old artist destroyed is said to be valued at a million dollars. Each of vases used in the exhibit are about 2,000 years old, dating back to China’s Han Dynasty. The artist often uses ancient artifacts in his work, and has drawn criticism that his art consists of defacing the original work or another artist.
- Caminero says he thought the vases were cheap pottery purchased at Home Depot, and never suspected that they were so old or valuable. (And yet he still didn’t say “Oopsie!” Or “Doh!”
- The museum HAS exhibited local artists.
- He broke the vase directly in front of a series of larger-than-life photos of Weiwei dropping and destroying another Han Dynasty vase.
- He says that he interpreted the photos as a fellow artist’s provocative statement, encouraging him to break the vase.
- Caminero was charged with criminal mischief, which is not a trivial charge. At very least, he would be required to pay for the destroyed item.
- The news reports say that the museum is assisting police in the investigation. What investigation? The entire episode on video.
No, you can’t make this stuff up.
And our Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is this:
Should the justice system treat Caminero’s act more leniently than any other act of deliberate vandalism resulting in the destruction of a million dollars worth of property?
To me, the answer is a resounding “no”:
- The fact that the vandalism is a protest? It doesn’t matter why he destroyed the vase. It wouldn’t mitigate the crime even if he had something legitimate to protest, which he did not.
- The fact that he didn’t mean to break a a million dollar vase, just a cheap one? Too bad. You break it, you’ve bought it.
- The fact that the photo display behind him showed the artist doing exactly the same thing? Completely irrelevant. The artist was breaking his own vase.
- The fact that the art that Caminero was destroying was itself created by a destructive act? Oh, there are a number of bad rationalizations he can use in his defense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses them all. The protest was performance art, and punishing it severely infringes on free artistic expression! Punishing him is the ultimate hypocrisy, as he was calling attention to Weiwei’s own vandalism! He started it! Tit for Tat! It’s for a good cause! All ethically invalid.
Someone this stupid, irresponsible, self-centered and reckless is a danger to the community. His next protest may harm more than a vase.
I hope they throw the book at him.