Loading the Canon #18: Iconoclasm

Loading the Canon #18 by Helena-Anne Hittel


On February 17, Maximo Caminero walked into the Perez Art Museum in Miami, which was currently housing an exhibit of the work of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, according to The Times. Caminero picked up one of sixteen colored vases (from the work “Colored Vases,” dated 2006-2012) and let go, shattering it in the middle of the floor. The motive for this? Not enough local art in museums. Ai Weiwei hasn’t made any comments on the matter, as his Twitter and Instagram have been politely hushed up.

Ai Weiwei is an artist who has made his entire career around iconoclasm. He photographed himself dropping a Han Dynasty urn (“Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995).


His “Colored Vases” are most likely ancient Chinese pottery, now covered in paint.


Whether or not Weiwei would have cared about this destruction remains to be seen. Bear in mind, though, that this is a man who has no problem breaking things, no matter how old or valuable they are deemed. Nobody can say for sure whether or not this inspired Caminero’s actions.

While at UCF, I took many a class with Margaret Zaho. In the latter half of 2013, she published her second book, Art is an Endangered Species.


This wasn’t just a maxim she kept repeating in lecture. This was, and has always been, the truth. Whatever the situation, things have gotten smashed to pieces, noses have been chiseled off (just ask Michelangelo’s Pietá), and works flat out destroyed because they were considered “degenerate.” Especially during World War II. The Monuments Men  and Saving Italy by Robert Edsel are great reads on the subject of saving cultural treasures. Hitler had requested that if he had been found during the war, all the artwork that the Nazis stole would have been destroyed. This was part of his famous Nero Decree, which called for the complete devastation of the Reich. Had this been enacted, we would have lost centuries of history, tradition, and culture. These works of painting and sculpture are not just mere artifacts. It’s a timeline.

I love local art. I love foreign art. I love art, period. A place without art, especially local, is no place I want to live. Let’s be reasonable here. Though I’ve never really experienced it, I can understand the frustration of your life’s work constantly going unnoticed. Van Gogh’s was never really valued until after he died, after all. This, however, doesn’t warrant smashing or otherwise destroying someone else’s work, at least, not in my eyes. Caminero destroyed Weiwei’s art as a way to get back at the museum for not showing local art, including his own. It sounds a bit, to me, like throwing a temper tantrum.

“Colored Vases” was estimated to be worth approximately $1 million. Part of what truly rankles me about this incident is that Caminero was actually apologetic after finding out the piece’s worth. The art and the artist didn’t seem to matter to him as much as the work’s monetary value. Would he have destroyed it if he knew how much it was worth? Caminero is quoted in an article on Hyperallergic as saying, “I didn’t know the piece was worth that much. I feel so sorry about it, for sure.”

Art is meant to make an impression. The act of making it makes as much of an impression on the audience as the finished product. To know that someone, however long ago, took this photograph, stood in front of this canvas, or cut this block of marble and poured their skill into it is definitely something else. To destroy another’s work because your own wasn’t noticed seems childish to me, but, like art, opinion is subjective.


Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Central Florida.

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