Local artist apologizes for smashing priceless vase at Miami museum

Miami HeraldFebruary 19, 2014 

An artist from Miami says he was protesting a museum's lack of support for local artists, when he smashed a $1 million vase from noted Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Maximo Caminero was charged with criminal mischief. (Feb. 19)

ASSOCIATEDPRESS

A day after the art world reacted in shock to a South Florida artist’s act of protest at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Maximo Caminero is apologizing to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei for smashing one of his vases. The value of the green vase, one of 16 on display at the Ai Weiwei: According to What? exhibit, is still being determined, though police placed a $1 million value on it in order to process the criminal charge.

“I have not the right to break his piece. I feel sorry for that,” Caminero, 51, told the Miami Herald Tuesday morning. “I’d like to apologize for all the inconvenience I caused Mr. Weiwei. I have no right to break the piece of someone else.”

For its part, the museum remained open Tuesday — with extra security around the exhibition.

“The bottom line is this was an act of vandalism and it’s disparagable and terrible,” said Leann Standish, PAMM’s deputy director for external affairs. “We’re hurt, we’re upset, but we’re so thrilled that the museum has carried on and is up and running in a fabulous way today.”

On Sunday, Caminero visited the museum and its politically charged showcase into Chinese culture and history. The show includes a collection of vases, dipped by the artist in paint, that Ai has represented as from the Han Dynasty. That would make them more than 2,000 years old. Another component of the exhibit features a series of three black-and-white photos of the artist, in protest mode, as he holds a Chinese vase and lets it smash to the ground.

According to the police report, Caminero picked up one of the vases and refused a security staffer’s order to put the piece down. Instead — crash — Caminero broke the vase on the floor. He told the arresting officer that he smashed the artwork in protest on behalf of local artists who he felt were slighted in favor of international artists at the new $131 million complex on Biscayne Bay. He was charged with criminal mischief and is out of jail on bond.

Caminero, a Dominican Republic-born artist who has been exhibited at numerous galleries locally and abroad, maintains he was unaware of the value of the piece and was acting in support of artists like Weiwei who are stifled.

The Beijing-born Ai Weiwei, 56, a sculptor, designer and documentarian, is not permitted to leave China following a 2011 arrest for his political activism. Weiwei condemned the Chinese government for actions he saw as corrupt following a 2008 earthquake in Szechuan.

“I was never against the art they were showing at the PAMM,” said Caminero. “I never said that. I have no problem with international artists showing here. I cannot talk about my situation,” he said.

“But I’d like to bring the message I feel sorry for the inconvenience,” he said. “So many artists are supporting me, and eventually you’ll see it.”

Dennis Scholl, an art collector and member of the museum’s board of trustees, said his impression is that local artists are “appalled” by the incident.

“People that are working artists in the community...have almost universally denounced this kind of behavior,” he said.

Since the incident, PAMM has reiterated the involvement of local artists. The museum currently runs AMERICANA, an exhibit featuring local artists José Bedia, Naomi Fisher, Lynne Golob Gelfman and Frances Trombly. In March, the museum will open Imagined Landscapes, a new show by Miami-based Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié and in October PAMM will feature Adler Guerrier’s multimedia works.

“It’s just ludicrous to suggest that we don’t respect or show Miami artists,” Standish said.

But Danilo Gonzalez, an artist and owner of the Art Place, a gallery and café at Northwest Second Avenue and 28th Street in Wynwood, defends Caminero.

“His intention wasn’t an act of vandalism,” said Gonzalez, the force behind The Wynwood Warehouse Project, a collective of art studios he’s pushing the city of Miami to support. “We at the Warehouse Project condemn any act of vandalism. We believe what Mr. Caminero is doing is a very clear statement about what is happening to our communities and the artists. I’ve known him for years. I’ve represented him in my gallery. He’s really concerned about what is happening in Miami with the artists, and no one is paying attention to them. We are being replaced by commercial development and nobody is doing anything about it.

“He’s very touched and concerned with what Weiwei is going through in China,” Gonzalez added. “He’s bothered that an artist of that caliber is not permitted to go out of that country....This institution claims to show his work [but] is not really backing him up. They are benefiting from his artwork.”

Ai Weiwei, however, expressed another viewpoint in an interview with CNN. Yes, he’s been photographed dropping vases as a form of protest. One famed photographic exhibit in 1995, Dropping the Urn, depicts Ai Weiwei dropping a centuries- old Han Dynasty urn. But no, Caminero’s action isn’t the equivalent in the international artist’s view.

“My work belongs to me, it doesn't belong to the public, and also it doesn't belong to somebody else,” Ai told CNN.

“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,” Ai said. “Damage is damage, you know. If they have insurance, maybe it will be covered.”

The entire exhibition was insured in collaboration with other institutions that have hosted the traveling show, according to PAMM.

Standish and other said they don’t believe the incident will tarnish the reputation of the museum, which opened its new Herzog & de Meuron-designed building on Biscayne Bay to acclaim in December.

“All we’ve received is a lot of support and a lot of people saying that they’re so disappointed that this happened,” Standish said.

Peter Plagens, an artist and writer in New York, wrote about the museum’s opening and its relatively tiny permanent collection for The Wall Street Journal last year. In an interview Tuesday, he said he didn’t believe the incident would harm the museum’s efforts to build a larger collection or bring in traveling shows.

“I don’t think the act of vandalism will be a big black eye to the museum,” he said. “These security things, people vandalizing, they happen once in a while. There will probably be some circling of the wagons at the museum and talking about security.”

While Standish commended the actions of security workers who handled the incident Sunday, she said the amount of security around the show has “naturally” been increased. And she said security measures change frequently.

“We are constantly assessing the level of security that we have; every exhibition is different, they have different requirements,” she said. “It’s always in flux.”

Scholl, who with his wife Debra donated about 300 works to PAMM early last year, said the events that unfolded Sunday have not made him regret that decision.

“We gave a significant amount of very fragile art to the museum last year,” he said. “We have absolutely zero concerns about that, given their security policy, and this incident tells you how closely they’re watching and being careful.”

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