Were you standing in line outside the Moscone Center in San Francisco? Were you walking through the Krog Tunnel in Atlanta? Have you passed through Cleveland or Nashville recently? Or Austin? Or San Diego? Did you glance up at the sky and see a floating chimpanzee’s head wearing a hat and winking at you? Did you ask yourself, “Who is this curious ape and why is he winking at me?”
They asked me what I thought of the atomic bomb. I said I had not been able to take any interest in it.
I like to read detective and mystery stories. I never get enough of them but whenever one of them is or was about death rays and atomic bombs I never could read them. What is the use, if they are really as destructive as all that there is nothing left and if there is nothing there nobody to be interested and nothing to be interested about. If they are not as destructive as all that then they are just a little more or less destructive than other things and that means that in spite of all destruction there are always lots left on this earth to be interested or to be willing and the thing that destroys is just one of the things that concerns the people inventing it or the people starting it off, but really nobody else can do anything about it so you have to just live along like always, so you see the atomic [bomb] is not at all interesting, not any more interesting than any other machine, and machines are only interesting in being invented or in what they do, so why be interested. I never could take any interest in the atomic bomb, I just couldn’t any more than in everybody’s secret weapon. That it has to be secret makes it dull and meaningless. Sure it will destroy a lot and kill a lot, but it’s the living that are interesting not the way of killing them, because if there were not a lot left living how could there be any interest in destruction. Alright, that is the way I feel about it. They think they are interested about the atomic bomb but they really are not not any more than I am. Really not. They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting.
Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.
A photograph of a window-lit white room containing a healthy green plant.
"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?”
He said he never wanted one or two drinks. He wanted the whole bottle. The point, he said, was to drink and keep drinking. He wanted to be liberated from self-disgust. He sought out oblivion.