Ai Weiwei Responds to Vase Dropper

by Jillian Steinhauer on February 19, 2014

A GIF version of unverified video footage found by the BBC of Caminero dropping the Ai vase (GIF by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

In his first remarks since local artist Maximo Caminero smashed a vase in one of his artworks on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Ai Weiwei told the Associated Press that he doesn’t understand or agree with the vandal’s actions. “Damaging other people’s property or disturbing a public program doesn’t really support his cause,” Ai said. That cause, according to Caminero, is getting PAMM and other Miami museums to show more local artists.

Caminero destroyed the vase, a Han Dynasty urn repainted by Ai as part of the work “Colored Vases” (2006–12), on Sunday, February 16. At the time, he told reporters that he was inspired by photos on display in the same room of Ai himself dropping and breaking a vase — another famous piece by the Chinese artist, called “Dropping a Han-Dynasty Urn” (1995). “I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest,” Caminero said then. Ai told the AP that he finds this “misleading. You cannot stand in front of a classical painting and kill somebody and say that you are inspired by [the artist]. … This doesn’t make any sense.”

Ai Weiwei’s “Colored Vases” (2006–12) and “Dropping a Han-Dynasty Urn” (1995) on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, before the vandalism (photo by Patrick Farrell for Visit Florida, via Flickr) (click to enlarge)

Some people have questioned whether Ai is being hypocritical or taking himself too seriously, but it seems pretty clear that the issue here is ownership: “Ai Wei Wei, I believe, has owned in one way or other the things that he has destroyed [in his art]. [Caminero] was destroying someone else’s property. That strikes me as a form of vandalism and not a form of art,” said Kerry Brougher, interim director of the Hirshhorn Museum and organizer of the exhibition Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950, in an interview with the Washington Post.

And what would that property be without a value? News outlets have reported the vase as being worth $1 million, a figure that apparently comes from the Florida police affidavit for the incident. Asked about that sum by the AP, Ai called it “exaggerated” and “a very ridiculous number.”

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  • Craig

    Some would see painting over Han Dynasty artifacts as “damaging other people’s property”.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I totally get that. I think the argument, technically, is about legal ownership, i.e. Ai owned those vases; he bought them himself. But on questions of cultural patrimony and what constitutes destruction vs. art, yes, it’s a lot trickier…

      • Keyser Soze

        You cant like, OWN Art, man

  • One word for Kerry Brougher: graffiti.

  • Shawn Chapman

    I think it would be very nice to give Caminero a retrospective show, and allow everyone to come and reenact his performance protest.

  • Bonkers

    Good grief. First the news that the Corcoran will be no more, now this. The barbarians aren’t at the gate, they are us.

  • Matthew Clarke

    Maximo forgot to recognize the art gallery as a context itself; so trapped within the context Ai Weiwei has engaged, he literally acts with no conscious.

  • Be

    let us note also that in NO WAY was this ‘protest’ a protest of ai’s use of
    these vases. so some who are using that dislike to defend this ‘protest’ are totally misguided

  • This ain’t straight forward. A vase no longer considered functional may gain value (if it is “Han dynasty” and not “Ikea”), and if “owned” you may re-paint it, which – carrying the name Ai WeiWei – increases value with > 900K. Again, and again, there is too much money on the look-out for too few artists or art-pieces. Think such a vase only merits it’s value if – placed in Kiev war squares – it can bring peace. says Drager Meurtant

  • This situation is ripe with irony. Ai Weiwei has inadvertently become the symbol of the establishment, while Caminero is the everyman, protesting the marginalization of the little folk by BIG ART. That Ai Weiwei doesn’t see this is remarkable. It makes him seem a hypocrite.

    Here he is quoted by the Washington Post:

    “Damaging other people’s property or disturbing a public program doesn’t really support his cause,”

    Unbelievable. He sounds like the communist apparatchiks who put him in jail! This from a man who has made disobedience and guerrilla theatre his oeuvre. He is also dead wrong. Caminero garnered more exposure to his protest than he would have otherwise.

    • Keyser Soze

      Ai Weiwei was always a dumb reactionary and patsy of Western governments. Hence his media popularity. His fame is nothing more than an artifact of his usefulness as a pawn in America’s Cultural Cold War against Communism that has never stopped.


    It’s behind a pay wall, but this excellent Harper’s piece by Ben Lerner about art and vandalism is relevant reading in light of the Caminero-Weiwei story.

  • sealiagh

    Ah if only Mr. Caminero had gone here and had a ready made b.s. explanation of why he did what he did he’d be on his way to being a darling (a.k.a. lackey of the 1% perhaps?) instead facing jail time.

  • Chris Egan

    usually I hate people who trash others art but this really is a piece of art. he looked the “master” right in the eye and said “anything you can do I can do with media attention” and straight up did the same thing facing WeiWei’s work… masterful is all I can say!

  • Abby

    the issue isn’t ownership; it’s motivation. this artist’s actions was a poor way to communicate his point.

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