Maximo Caminero, a well-known painter based in Miami, is facing felony criminal mischief charges after deliberately dropping a vase painted by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei in a local museum on Sunday. Looking at the colorful object, Caminero said, he figured it was “a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot.”
Underneath, however, it was a genuine ancient artifact from the Han dynasty—with an estimated value of $1 million (according to the responding police officer, that is).
Now, by way of some amateur footage, you too can experience the shock of standing in the Pérez Art Museum Miami when someone criticizes the gallery’s international focus by smashing a work of foreign provenance.
“It was a spontaneous protest,” Caminero told the Miami New Times. “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.”
“I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here,” Caminero said of his attack on Ai’s According to What? installation—and some colleagues have happily praised him for it. “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.”
In comments to the BBC, Ai was clear on the difference between his acts of destruction and Caminero’s: “I never tried to destroy a museum piece—those vases belong to me. He can drop whatever he likes to drop, but not other people's property.” I could almost swear I’ve heard that line of reasoning before?
Ai also laid claim the moral high ground of creative martyrdom: “I still don't have a chance to show my work in China or Beijing. I never even think of going to a museum in Beijing to protest—if I [did], I would be punished.” Caminero will suffer his own unpleasant consequences, of course, but you can’t say he wasn’t warned not to touch.