If you've got an artistic message to get across, you can always try picking up a $1-million vase and smashing it to the ground.
Officials say that's what happened at a Miami museum over the weekend when a local artist destroyed part of an installation by Chinese superstar Ai Weiwei to protest the museum's supposed exclusion of local artists.
According to a police report, Maximo Caminero, a 51-year-old Dominican artist who lives in Miami, picked up the vase at Pérez Art Museum Miami and ignored a security guard's plea to put it down. He then smashed it to the ground, in front of three large photos of Ai doing the same thing to another ancient Chinese vase in 1995, an act of artistic destruction that became one of Ai's most famous works.
Caminero's act, however, is being treated not as art but as a felony act of criminal mischief, which could result in up to five years in prison.
At first, he wasn't sorry.
"I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here," Caminero told the Miami New Times on Monday. "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."
But by Tuesday, Caminero had changed his mind and apologized.
“I have not the right to break his piece. I feel sorry for that,” Caminero told the Miami Herald, referring to Ai's art. “I’d like to apologize for all the inconvenience I caused Mr. Weiwei. I have no right to break the piece of someone else.”
The vandalism was denounced both by the museum and by Ai, whom CNN reached in China, where officials have restricted the dissident artist's travel.
"The protest itself may be valid, but to damage somebody's work to do that is questionable," Ai said, adding, "My work belongs to me; it doesn't belong to the public and also it doesn't [belong to] somebody else."
That said, Ai told CNN that "I don't really care much, and actually my work is often damaged in different shows, because it's fragile. So normally I don't take these things too highly. Damage is damage, you know. If they have insurance, maybe it will be covered." (A museum spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the exhibit is insured.)
The vases in the "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" exhibit are reportedly from the ancient Han dynasty (206 BC to AD 220). They've been dipped in bright paint by Ai -- defacement as artistic statement.
"The faded, richly patterned surfaces of the jars are concealed by the bright modern colors, but the jars retain their original forms," read the notes for the exhibit, according to the museum. "With their materials and shapes intact and only their surfaces changed, the vases challenge the viewer to consider questions about authenticity and the value and meaning of an original artwork."
The police report gives the value of the broken vase as $1 million, but museum spokeswoman Leann Standish told The Times that the museum was still looking at similar vases to come up with the valuation.
"We have the highest respect for freedom of expression, but this destructive act of vandalism is disrespectful to another artist and his work, to Pérez Art Museum Miami, and to our community," the museum said in a statement.
Without addressing Caminero's comments directly, the museum noted that works by local artists José Bedia, Eugenio Espinoza, Naomi Fisher, Lynne Golob Gelfman and Frances Trombly were being shown at the museum, and that an exhibit by another Miami artist was to open soon.
"These collaborations are part of the museum's long legacy of working with the local creative community," the museum said.
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