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Destroy Me, I'm Art (If the Museum Says So)

Post #1643 • February 18, 2014, 11:45 AM • 1 Comment

Yesterday a story made the Miami New Times, whose website was recently redesigned by a team of enraged gibbons on crack, in which a Miami artist named Maximo Caminero smashed a vase that was part of an exhibit of work by Ai Weiwei at the local museum that was recently renamed for a popular cooking spray local donor of some note. If you'd like to see the breakage in motion, WSVN has the video along with a hilarious re-enactment by the reporter on the scene, replete with bad puns and the production values that make local television news in Miami sometimes indistinguishable from a low-budget sitcom.

This was no mere act of vandalism, but a protest. "I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here," he reported to the MNT. "They have spent so many millions now on international artists. It's the same political situation over and over again. I've been here for 30 years and it's always the same."

As someone who lived in Miami for thirty years and worked as a local artist for a hefty portion of it, I appreciate the gesture. Normally I would condemn vandalism out of hand but this case is a little different.

"It was a spontaneous protest," he explains. "I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei's photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it. And I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest."

"If you saw the vases on display and the way they were painted there was no way one would think the artist had painted over an ancient artifact," Caminero says. "Instead I thought it was a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot, frankly."

"I wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are many foreign artists like myself and others who have been here thirty years and have never received attention or support from MAM or now PAMM and other local museums," he continues. "We are all taxpayers here and PAMM used $200 million of public money on its building and opened with Weiwei's work to draw attention to itself and as always continues to ignore local artists."

"I lifted the Vase and let it smash on the floor like WeiWei did in his picture then waited for authorities peacefully and never resisted punishment," he says of his act of defiance. "But honestly I had no idea the vase had any value. I admire Ai Weiwei greatly and have always supported his actions while he was suffering indignities from the Chinese government."

There's a quality to this not unlike the guileless clambering of that British child onto the Donald Judd sculpture at the Tate Modern late last month: museumgoers assessed the available visual cues and proceeded to act in an understandable if not precisely correct manner. There were vases situated in front of sequential photographs of a guy dropping and breaking a vase. Given what goes on in the name of relational aesthetics and other participatory forms of art, it's not totally out of the question that Caminero's doing likewise was an appropriate artistic (I hesitate to call it "aesthetic") response, even if it's clear from a property-rights standpoint that one ought not do such things. Jonathan Jones goes further and asks who is the real vandal.

Ai Weiwei certainly does capture the industrial world's disconnection from making, our loss of crafts and even of basic respect for them. But he also embodies these cynical attitudes as he smashes that lovely old vase. He seems to invite further violence to art – even his own.

Indeed, I too once received that invitation to violence to art, or thought I had. I declined it, but I pretended otherwise for the sake of a piece I wrote in 2001 for the Miami Art Exchange, Pushing Over Four Monitors: A Proposal for P.S.1.

Project Background. Sierra’s work explores exploitive situations and the degrading nature of useless labor. The videos are shown in conjunction with an installation at P.S.1 entitled 360 Remunerated Hours, which consists of a brick wall bisecting an exhibition space. Someone was paid to reside behind this wall for 15 days. A slot in the bottom of the wall was used to provide the person with food and a means for communicating with people on the other side. Four monitors on the viewer’s side of the wall replay Sierra’s earlier projects, one of which involved a group of men in Havana who were paid about $30 each to have a line tattooed on their backs that would be level when the men lined up shoulder to shoulder.

Pushing Over Four Monitors would serve as a visceral and dramatic response to Sierra’s work as a whole, exploring issues of authenticity, critical response, the artist-audience dynamic, and the necessary destructive aspect of the creative process.

I regard this as something akin to juvenilia but there's a nugget in there that bears on l'Affaire Caminero.

If P.S.1 elects to retaliate against the artist legally, it will be engaging in the following: Censorship, and Elitism, by admitting that institutional permission is the only distinguishing mechanism by which work in this genre can be classified as art.

Now that something like this has taken place, the institution has reacted as I would have expected.

Earlier this week, a museum visitor intentionally broke a vase in the Ai Weiwei exhibition. The museum’s security team immediately secured the galleries and the person was apprehended. The museum is working with the authorities in their investigation. Although the museum can’t speak directly to intentions, evidence suggests that this was a premeditated act. We have the highest respect for freedom of expression, but this destructive act of vandalism is disrespectful to another artist and his work, to Pérez Art Museum Miami, and to our community.

It also tacitly defended itself against the charge of unwillingness to work with local artists.

As an art museum dedicated to celebrating modern and contemporary artists from within our community and around the world, we have an exciting roster of exhibitions upcoming and on view. Next month, we open a show by Miami-based artist Edouard Duval-Carrie, which will feature new works by the artist. Currently on view in AMERICANA are local artists José Bedia, Naomi Fisher, Lynne Golob Gelfman and Frances Trombly. These collaborations are part of the Museum's long legacy of working with the local creative community. PAMM is committed fostering a dialogue that extends the experience and understanding of the arts and a diversity of cultures. We look forward to being in touch with you about these exhibitions in the future.

The irony of that statement is that Bedia, Fisher, Golob Gelfman, and Trombly have all been exhibited by Frederic Snitzer Gallery, with Bedia and Fisher still in the stable. This was my longstanding criticism of the museum, that it had a habit of ensuring that Snitzer artists predominated any consideration of local work. I would never break anything over it, but it finally made me disinclined to support the museum, and contributed in some measure to my desire to leave the city itself.

Having moved to Boston and found a groove for my work, I've discovered that these and similar criticisms by the locals of the institutions are a national and probably international phenomenon, and I've just figured out other ways to be an artist that don't require me to think of the museums very much. Too, it's easier to be sanguine about and supportive of the museums when you have some that commit seriously to artists in the region, like we have in the Danforth, Philly has in the Woodmere, and Mainers have in the CMCA. South Florida could use their equivalent. The closest thing it has is the exhibition program at Bridge Red Studios. That doesn't excuse Caminero for vandalism, but a legitimate criminal complaint against Caminero doesn't excuse PAMM from curatorial narrowness that is the source of merited frustration felt by local artists.




February 20, 2014, 12:19 PM

Emerson Dorsch, which represents Frances Trombly, got in touch with me to clarify that she was never represented at Snitzer Gallery, although she showed in some group exhibitions there. I never meant to imply otherwise, but since Golob Gelfman was represented there and Bedia and Fisher still are, the clarification is worth making.

Also, pace another reader's remarks to me in a private conversation, my criticism is not of Snitzer and certainly not of the artists mentioned in PAMM's statement on the vandalism, the latter who ought to be showing anywhere that dignifies their work. Rather, my criticism is that the newly reschristened museum has a narrow conception of what's going on in local art. It always has. Moreover it seems to be unaware of it, as if it were unremarkable that all four local artists said to be in the AMERICANA show have a single gallery in common in their exhibition history, that three of them have been represented there, and that two of them continue to be.



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