‘I thought it was a Home Depot pot’: Painter charged for smashing museum’s US$1m Ai Weiwei vase

Suspect was protesting museum’s ‘favouritism’ of foreign art, but later says he is a fan of Ai and didn’t realise he destroyed his work

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 4:47pm

An artist in the United States is facing a criminal charge after police say he smashed a US$1 million vase by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei at Miami’s new art museum, to protest what he called its favouritism for international rather than local art.

Dominican-born Maximo Caminero, 51, was arrested and charged on Sunday with criminal mischief after picking up one of 16 brightly painted vases at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and throwing it to the ground when confronted by security, according to a police report.

He told police he broke the vase to protest that the museum “only displayed international artists”, the report said.

The police affidavit lists the value of the vase as US$1 million, quoting the museum’s security officials. Criminal mischief can be a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison when the property damaged is worth more than US$1,000.

[I] saw Ai Weiwei’s photos ... where he drops an ancient Chinese vase ... And I saw it as a provocation ... to join him
Maximo Caminero, painter

Caminero, who identified himself as a Miami-based painter, said he planned to host a news conference on Tuesday to explain his actions and declined to comment further.

He told the Miami New Times that he had no idea the vase was so valuable, and said he was a fan of Ai.

“I didn’t know that it was that amount,” he told the paper’s online edition, saying he thought it was “a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot, frankly”.

The 16 vases, each dipped in bright paint by Ai, are about 2,000 years old, dating back to China’s Han dynasty. The artist has long used ancient vases and artefacts in his work, drawing criticism that painting them defaces the original work.

Behind the installation in Miami is a backdrop of three photos showing him dropping a Han dynasty urn.

He also has painted the Coca-Cola logo onto several ancient vases.

Caminero said his action was a spontaneous protest, in part inspired by the Chinese artist. “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,” he told the New Times.

The piece, titled Coloured Vases, is part of Ai’s exhibit “According to What”, which opened along with the museum in late last year.

Caminero had a recent showing at the JF Gallery in West Palm Beach that offered patrons a chance to meet him and “view a sampling of the work from his 30-year career as an artist”.

A sculptor, designer and documentary-maker, Ai has irked Beijing by using his art and online profile to draw attention to injustices in China and the need for greater transparency and rule of law. He was detained for 81 days in 2011 during crackdown on dissent,

After his release in June 2011, Ai’s design firm was slapped with a US$2.4 million tax bill, which he fought unsuccessfully in the Chinese courts.