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20 February 2014

Art museum vandal asks for exhibition of local art

If you haven’t yet visited the Perez Art Museum of Miami (PAMM), the gorgeous new space between Biscayne Bay and Downtown, you are missing a tremendous experience of some of the finest contemporary art in the world. If you do make it out, you will have already missed part of a main exhibit, recently destroyed in an act of protest by Miami artist Maximo Caminiero.

The vandalism itself was a shock to the art world. But as a work of protest art, the act was as fitting as it was justified. To understand the justification, look to the destroyed art for insight.

Ai Weiwei is likely the world’s most famous artist. The Chinese icon, keeping with his social criticism of development, had photographed himself shattering a 2,500 year old priceless Chinese vase, displayed in front of several dozen more ancient vases he had wantonly painted on. The piece originally commented on the destruction of Chinese tradition at the hands of the Cultural Revolution and the rapid growth of China as wealthy modern country.

When Caminiero approached the vases, as he later told the Miami New Times, he took his cue from Ai, calmly picking one up, and dropping it to the floor. The estimated price of the destroyed vase? Over $1 million. Caminiero was booked with criminal mischief, a felony.

As Caminiero explained, “I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here”

As a statement of art itself, there are reasonable critiques to what Caminiero did. In painting over the vases, Ai had already transformed archeological value into artistic value. Caminiero’s vandalism was only poorly documented in low-quality video, so there is no physical legacy to his act.

Ai himself, objecting to the method, said, “If he really had a point, he should choose another way, because this will bring him trouble to destroy property that does not belong to him.”

But consider that the original piece existed only because Ai was concerned with the destruction of authentic Chinese culture. Miami has become a hotbed for the international art scene every December at Art Basel, when the PAMM first opened. Hidden underneath this expensive world is an authentic, local culture with world-class murals and galleries. When Ai’s work supplants that of a Miamian, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that the Chinese activist has become what his art originally spoke against.

Tellingly, PAMM’s next main exhibit will be Little Haiti’s own Edouard Duval-Carrié, so hopefully this will be the last broken art for a while.

In any event, do visit the PAMM. Go to Artwalk in Wynwood, too. Miami is a city that is uniquely international in scope, but we can still try and build a little local culture as best, or destructively, as we can.

Patrick Quinlan is a sophomore majoring in international studies and political science.