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Miami artist destroys $1 million Ai Weiwei vase in protest

By Euan McKirdy for CNN
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prominent Chinese artist's work vandalized in Miami gallery
  • Defendant says he destroyed Ai Weiwei's $1 million vase as "a spontaneous protest"
  • Ai has previously destroyed vases as part of his work
  • But he says a line needs to be drawn when work is damaged as part of a protest

(CNN) -- He's been photographed dropping vases before -- but that doesn't mean it's OK for just anyone to do it. Ai Weiwei has made a name for himself by not only creating visually arresting and thought-provoking art, but for his uncompromising activism in opposition to the Chinese government.

Ai was on the receiving end of a protest this weekend when a local Miami artist smashed a "color basis" vase valued at $1 million, part of the artist's "According to what?" exhibition at the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in the city. The exhibition also included photographs of the Chinese artist dropping what appears to be a Han Dynasty urn.

Maximo Caminero, a Miami-based artist, was named in a police affidavit as the defendant. He told an officer that his act was a protest against the gallery's decision to only display international art.

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The police report states that Caminero picked up the vase before being advised to put it down by a museum official. He then dropped it "in protest." He was charged with criminal mischief.

Questionable protest

Ai, meanwhile, told CNN that he didn't have "much reaction" to the news, but said that he thought that a line should be drawn when it came to damaging public or private property as part of a protest.

"I can't have a show in Beijing but I cannot go to museums to break work in Beijing," he said in a phone interview.

"My work is basically forbidden to be shown in China ... The protest itself may be valid but to damage somebody's work to do that is questionable."

Ai said that he considered his work -- specifically the triptych which shows him dropping an antique urn -- to be "very different."

"My work belongs to me, it doesn't belong to the public and also it doesn't [belong to] somebody else."

He said he believes he has been contacted by the gallery but he isn't taking the loss too seriously.

"I don't really care much and actually my work is often damaged in different shows, because it's fragile, so normally I don't take these things too highly. Damage is damage, you know. If they have insurance, maybe it will be covered."

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Condemnation

The museum issued a statement concerning the incident, condemning Caminero's act.

"Although the museum can't speak directly to intentions, evidence suggests that this was a premeditated act," a PAMM statement read.

"As an art museum dedicated to celebrating modern and contemporary artists from within our community and around the world, we have the highest respect for freedom of expression, but this destructive act is vandalism and disrespectful to another artist and his work, to Perez Art Museum Miami, and to our community."

Caminero told the Miami New Times that "it was a spontaneous protest" and that he "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."

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CNN's Sarah Aarthun contributed to this report

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