In the annals of radical acts of truly provocative fine-art vandalism, a Miami incident involving an Ai Wei-Wei work falls somewhere down the list near “that time my cat peed on my middle-school portfolio project.”
Here’s the nutshell version: The city’s Perez Art Museum Miami opened this past December with both a show featuring works from its permanent collection, and the traveling exhibition Ai Wei-Wei: According to What? This past Sunday, though, a local artist named Maximo Caminero, miffed at his perceived lack of local artists on view at the museum, decided to take protesting matters into his own hands.
Perhaps, though, he was truly gnashing his own teeth over his own poor reading skills, as a handful of works by Miami-born and – based artists do appear throughout the museum. In any event, Caminero decided to smash one of Ai Wei-Wei’s “Colored Vases,” in a “spontaneous protest” with a “political” aim, according to the Miami New Times.
Unfortunately, Caminero hasn’t kept up with the contemporary art scene, it appears. After the incident, he admitted to having no real idea about Ai Wei-Wei’s oeuvre, or the purported value— $1 million, by museum estimates—of the work he destroyed.
“I thought it was a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot, frankly,” he told New Times’ Michael Miller. “I honestly had no idea the vase had any value.” Oopsies!
Purported value or not, though, the whole going-into-a-museum-and-wrecking thing now comes across as hackneyed as Caminero’s Picasso-lite attempts at ‘50s-style Abstract Expressionist painting. It’s also not something that any of the fellow Miami artists for whom Caminero purported to speak want any part of:
There was a point at which fine art vandalism shocked, but that time has long passed. Caminero has now earned his own Wikipedia mention, but here are five major acts of art vandalism that seemed to truly speak for the ideological—rather than the provincial—in their day.
Mary Richardson takes a cleaver to Velázquez's Rokeby Venus, 1914
Winning women the right to vote involved some serious protests—and when suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst got arrested, a fellow feminist in arms devised a way to draw attention to her plight. Pankhurst’s friend, Mary Richardson, decided to destroy this Venus painting in the National Gallery of London to draw attention to the former’s mistreatment.
Situationists decapitate the Little Mermaid, 1964
Copenhagen’s statue of the Little Mermaid has suffered more often than most other major cities’ landmark public art, with multiple decapitations, bombings, and paint attacks over the years. What touched off this decades-long streak of destruction, though, was an original decapitation in 1964 by a group of Situationists, a movement of avant-garde, mid-century artists loosely affiliated with communist ideals. Naturally, this bit of high-profile art vandalism was meant to serve as a critique of capitalism.
Tony Shafrazi goes guerrilla on Guernica, 1974
President Richard Nixon had just pardoned former U.S. Army officer William Calley for his role in the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam a few years earlier. In a supposed protest against this, Shafrazi, a recent transplant to New York, hit MOMA and spray-painted the words “KILL LIES ALL” across the surface of Picasso’s Guernica.
However, this probably, more than anything else, proved Shafrazi’s art-hype savvy early on. Conservators fairly easily removed the paint from the Picasso. Then Shafrazi later went on to become one of the most successful commercial gallerists in New York, inciting drooling, frantic buying wars over the works of artists like Keith Haring and Francis Bacon.
Pierre Pinoncelli goes after Duchamp’s Fountain not once, but twice, 1993 and 2006
This one seems puerile, but deserves mention just for the decades-long follow-through. Italian artist apparently felt compelled to make a statement about Duchamp’s infamous, statement-making signed urinal. In 1993, Pinoncelli urinated into it, serving actual prison time for his crime. That wasn’t a deterrent, though—in 2006 he returned for the Duchamp while it was on display at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, attacking it with a hammer in the name of a performance piece.
Occupy takes on Damien Hirst, 2012
At the height of the worldwide Occupy movement, perhaps Hirst, of all the contemporary U.K. artists, had it coming in his home country. In April of that year, protestors graffitied across his anatomical-model-style sculpture ‘Hymn,’ standing publicly outside the Tate Modern in London.
Hirst’s crime? Being a favorite artist of one-percenters inflating the global market for such creations. “[He is] the man who has defined the capitalist approach to art more than any other… he is the brash Goldman Sachs of the art world," Kester Brewin wrote as explanation in the Occupied Times.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.