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Feb 18 2014


Miami FL

MIAMI — Officials at the recently inaugurated Pérez Art Museum Miami confirmed on Monday that a valuable vase by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei had been deliberately destroyed by a visitor in what appeared to be an act of protest.

A spokeswoman for the museum said the incident occurred on Sunday afternoon when a local artist, whom it did not name, walked into the waterfront museum and picked up one of the vases in an installation of Mr. Ai’s work titled “Colored Vases.” A guard asked the man to put it down, but instead he threw it to the ground, smashing it, the spokeswoman said.

The Miami New Times said Maximo Caminero, 51, was arrested.

Pérez Art Museum Miami, which opened with much fanfare during the Art Basel festival here in December, published a statement on its website saying that after the vase had been broken in the museum’s retrospective exhibit of Mr. Ai’s work, a security team “immediately secured the galleries and the person was apprehended.” Without mentioning Mr. Caminero’s name, the statement said that the museum was “working with the authorities in their investigation.”

“Although the museum can’t speak directly to intentions, evidence suggests that this was a premeditated act,” the museum’s statement went on. “As an art museum dedicated to celebrating modern and contemporary artists from within our community and around the world, we have the highest respect for freedom of expression, but this destructive act is vandalism and disrespectful to another artist and his work, to Pérez Art Museum Miami, and to our community.”

Mr. Caminero, a native of the Dominican Republic who has long lived in Miami, told the Miami New Times, a weekly newspaper, after his arrest that he had broken the vase to protest what he said was the museum’s exclusion of local artists in its exhibits.

Local news reports said he was charged with criminal mischief. Miami police officials would not confirm Monday evening that Mr. Caminero had been charged, but said they would address the issue on Tuesday morning.

Mr. Ai has become China’s best-known artist, and has been under intense pressure from authorities there to curtail his advocacy efforts, which included a lengthy investigation he undertook into shoddy construction that contributed to the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren in their classrooms during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The 56-year-old artist was detained for 81 days in 2011 on tax evasion charges, and remains subject to travel restrictions.

Reached by telephone in China, Mr. Ai said he had initially understood the vase to have been broken accidentally. But then he read a news report that the vase in Miami had been deliberately smashed, and questioned Mr. Caminero’s expressed reason for doing so.

“The argument does not support the act,” Mr. Ai said. “It doesn’t sound right. His argument doesn’t make much sense. 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.”

Mr. Ai said he had no idea whether the vase could be fixed or whether its loss would be covered by insurance. But he said he was not overly distressed by the breakage. “I’m O.K. with it, if a work is destroyed,” Mr. Ai said. “A work is a work. It’s a physical thing. What can you do? It’s already over.”

News reports here said the destroyed vase was worth $1 million, a figure the museum said was provided by police as an estimate based on previous appraisals of similar works by Mr. Ai. An official appraisal of the destroyed work’s value is underway, said Alina Sumajin, a spokeswoman for the museum.

A similar work, called a Group of 9 Coloured Vases, consisting of Neolithic vases painted by Mr. Ai in 2007, sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2012 for $156,325, a price that included buyer’s premium.

Paradoxically, Mr. Caminero claims to be an admirer of his Chinese colleague. Reached by the Miami New Times, Mr. Caminero said that he destroyed the vase “for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here.” Miami’s museums and galleries, he said, “have spent so many millions now on international artists,” without, in his view, giving any attention to local talent.

“It’s the same political situation over and over again,” he told the newspaper. “I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s always the same.”

Mr. Caminero suggested that he had been inspired by one of Mr. Ai’s most famous works, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” a series of three photographs, on exhibit here, in which he dispassionately shatters a priceless ancient Chinese vase to make a point about valuation of art and everyday objects as well as the fragility of cultural objects.

The Pérez museum’s description of the photographs says that the artist dropped a 206 BCE - 220 CE urn to the floor “to express the notion that new ideas and values can be produced through iconoclasm.”

“I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest,” Mr. Caminero told the Miami New Times.

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