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Art And Dissent

Photograph: S Pribut

Art And Dissent

Recently a Miami, self-styled artist, feeling neglected, went to an exhibition, picked up an ancient Han Vase which was the subject of another artists work, and dropped and broke it.

This was not cool. And it wasn’t even original. Been there and done that was the artist whose work it was. In fact the dude broke the million dollar vase in front of a picture of Ai Weiwei doing it himself. So, this derivative artist created nothing new. The act had no meaning and it was not original. In fact it was done in ignorance and not out of creative feeling, impulse or thought. It was at the level of a monkey flinging shiz. The artist did not know the value of the vase and clearly didn’t understand the nature of Ai Weiwei’s work or the purpose of art and museums which display art. (In a sense, it is like blowing up the Army Mathematics Research Center (AMRC) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and declaring that this act was to call attention to the new math.)

He claimed that he felt “inspired and a feeling of solidarity” with Ai Weiwei. But the feeling of solidarity and empowerment I felt from Ai Weiwei was that Ai Weiwei allowed visitors to photograph his exhibit. Photography is generally forbidden at visiting exhibits at most museums. But while here in DC at the Hirshorn Museum all photography was allowed and I was allowed to bring in any camera I desired.

What is never allowed is touching the art objects. So, no matter what one thinks of any art or any modern art, if you visit museums regularly or if you produce art, you know not to touch the art work. Picking up and destroying a piece of art that is owned and produced by another is not art and is not protest. It is vandalism. What was done was the equivalent of taking a hammer and knocking the nose off of a Michelangelo statue. It is like slashing a Rembrandt or the Mona Lisa.

In fact Wikipedia has a whole entry on “Vandalism of Art“. The article states “Restorations were costly and time consuming and in many cases were followed by shielding the artwork from future attacks”. I don’t know about you, but I like to see my art up close and personal. I don’t like to see it behind a screen, glass or other barrier. Looking at Michelangelo’s La Pietà through a thick glass plate was not a moment of aesthetics. The glass plate was covered with dirt, grime and finger prints. The statue was hardly visible. It was a moment of consternation. Why did some person have to damage this work of art so that no one visiting the Vatican would ever be able to see it properly again. Michelangelo’s David was also damaged by a fruitcake with a hammer and the result was some broken toes.

Ai Weiwei had clearly stated in many places that the artwork he himself dropped and photographed and the ones he painted were Han vases. Some of us may have doubted that was true, but no one doubted that it was Ai Weiwei’s artwork. Whether it was a $25 model or a $1 million vase, the artwork was that of Ai Weiwei and not for some random person to destroy.

The lesson is be you crazy, misguided or whatever “don’t break other people’s stuff in museums”. It will ruin it for the rest of us. As I mentioned, I can’t see the Pieta up close and personal. In fact I found it hardly visible at all behind the thick and dirty glass. There was no longer an art experience there. I haven’t been to the Louvre, but I’m not sure I want to bother looking at the Mona Lisa behind a thick piece of glass from several feet away. The intricate detail can only be seen up close. Vandals have made this a necessity. Will all art one day be viewed only online or through protective glass?

It is laudable that Caminero’s friends are having an auction to help with his legal costs. But hopefully they will also learn the lesson that others art has value, as they value their own. Busting up, defacing, and damaging artwork in a museum is not a creative it is destructive of all artwork, past, present, and future. It is not helpful to those who want to view artwork, have a relationship with the art, artwork, and artist though experiencing the exhibits. From the article in the NY Times it seems they do know the lesson and while they support the friend, understand his motivation, they do not support his act. While I don’t think he needs to spend 5 years in jail, restitution and acts of penance are in order.

Ai Weiwei’s art of dissent is legitimate. Caminero’s act is ill advised, ill considered, and illegitimate.

You are welcome to make your own art, give it away, blow it up (where legal), or let others deface it for you. But leave the stuff in the museums alone. You are now welcome to done one old and badly fit pair of “No Excuses” Jeans. You may rip and patch them to your heart’s content.

Behind The Smashing Of A Vase

Artists Friends Auction for Defense Funds

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