"The speed at which artists and critics categorize figures like [Maximo Caminero] as vandals and not radical artists betrays an open secret in the world of contemporary art: Nobody is supposed to take those vanguard ideas too seriously. Like some kind of village idiot, a vandal takes literally what we’re only supposed to pretend to believe: anything can be art, traditional media must give way to conceptual performance, and the money-hungry art world must be subject to ruthless critique.” - Ben Lerner, “Damage Control,” Harper’s
Back in December, Lerner wrote about the complicated relationship between vandalism and value in contemporary art. The quote above previously mentioned Pierre Pinoncelli, a man who once urinated into a copy of Duchamp’s Fountain before beating it with a hammer. Pinoncelli was arrested.
On February 16, Maximo Caminero picked up one of Ai Weiwei’s “Colored Vases” and dropped it on the floor of Perez Art Museum Miami while standing in front of series of photographs that depict Ai dropping a ancient Han Dynasty vase.
Caminero’s story follows close to the script of Lerner’s perception of art world vandalism. Ai Weiwei’s “Colored Vases,” produced by dipping dull Han Dynasty vases with flat, bright paints that effectively erase their antiquity, have improved upon the value of the object by radically altering it. Caminero’s action, which again radically alters the object, will result in an insurance claim. The value has been released from the object and, as Lerner describes it, “converted back into cash.” Caminero faces five years in prison. He has been described variously as an “idiot" or "stupid.”
Of course, the value of the vase has been an integral part of the media coverage. It has been consistently described as a “$1 million vase” or “$1m Ai Weiwei vase” or whichever variation of that you prefer. But, according to the AP, Ai demured from that figure:
"Ai said he thought the value of $1 million mentioned on the Florida police affidavit was "exaggerated." He said that he wasn’t involved with the insurance details, but that he thought the figure was "a very ridiculous number.""
Perhaps at this point we see a slight deviation from Lerner’s narrative. Ai believes that the vase was worth less than $1 million, but the museum asserts that the vase was worth a $1 million when filing a report on the incident. Is it possible that Caminero’s action improved the value of the vase, even momentarily, as that value is being “converted back into cash?”