Remember when a local artist smashed one of Ai Weiwei’s painted Han Dynasty urns in protest at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in February? Well, now, thanks to an online game called “Ai Weiwei Whoops!,” anyone can be a vase dropper!
A brief refresher: a man named Maximo Caminero walked into the PAMM three months ago, picked up one of the pieces that comprise Ai’s “Colored Vases” (2006–12), and dropped it on the floor. Caminero said he was inspired by Ai himself, who, in a famous work called “Dropping a Han-Dynasty Urn” (1995) (photographs of which were hanging behind “Colored Vases” at the Pérez), did the same. But Ai denounced the vandal. Many news reports, apparently using information from the Miami police affidavit, pegged the value of the broken vase at $1 million, although Ai called that number “ridiculous.”
“Information artist” Grayson Earle has channeled all of this into his game “Ai Weiwei Whoops!” Against a bright purple screen, players are invited to drop and break vases whose digital images approximate Ai’s painted urns. When you enter the field of the game, your mouse arrow becomes a vase; a simple click will send one crashing to the ground, at which point you receive another. When the vases hit the floor, they make a satisfying shattering sound and send pixels flying. And for each one, you rack up “approximate property damage” of somewhere between $900,000 and $1.1 million.
That’s it. There are no levels; there is no attainable goal. You just keep breaking vases and accumulating property damage (that you needn’t pay) to your heart’s content. It’s part nihilistic, part cathartic, and part philosophical. “We know that Ai takes issue with the destruction of his art [property], but how does he feel about intellectual property?” Earle writes on the game’s about page. “Would Ai take offense to the destruction of digital representations of his work, or is it the loss of material, valuable property that provoked his response?” One suspects the latter. The game is an allegory. Art is an illusion.