The art world was shocked yesterday to learn someone had deliberately destroyed an Ai Weiwei piece at the Perez Art Museum Miami. Shock turned to incredulity when they learned the vandal wasn't a political protester, but rather veteran Miami painter Maximo Caminero, who shattered a Weiwei vase to draw attention to what he sees as neglect for local artists. Caminero has been roundly condemned for the vandalism.
But some Miami artists say they agree with his message, if not his medium for expressing it. "I never would have done what he did, (but) I think what he did was important," says Sergio Payares, a 52-year-old Cuban painter who previously had a studio space in the same building with Caminero. "It will help focus attention that many local artists here are ignored by PAMM and other local museums."
Others are even less guarded in their praise.
"I think it's the most courageous act ever undertaken by a Miami artist," says Sergio Garcia, a 54-year-old Cuban-born artist. "I commend Maximo Caminero totally for his actions and think he has helped squarely focus attention from the international community on the plight of local artists."
Some artists suggested Caminero's crime was in keeping with Weiwei's own political philosophy, pointing to his piece on display at PAMM "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn," in which he destroys an ancient Chinese artifact.
"I think Ai Weiwei is going to be sensitive to Maximo's act," says Emilio Martinez, a 32-year-old artist originally from Honduras. "Ai has undergone his own political struggles against his government and that is what Maximo has done through his actions."
But Ai criticized Caminero in an interview with the New York Times this morning.
"The argument does not support the act," he tells the newspaper. "It doesn't sound right. His argument doesn't make much sense. If he really had a point, he should choose another way, because this will bring him trouble to destroy property that does not belong to him."
Caminero has admitted that he didn't know the value of Ai's work -- which police tagged at $1 million -- when he chose to destroy it. And his friends, like Payares, say they are still shocked the quiet painter thrust himself into the spotlight with such a brazen act.
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"Maximo is the calmest person one can imagine and I did not believe it when I first heard the news," Payares says. "I don't think Maximo understood the repercussions of his actions and did it in a moment of desperate frustration perhaps thinking he could help others."
Ai tells the Times he isn't sure whether the vase can be fixed, but he's not sweating the destruction too much. "I'm O.K. with it, if a work is destroyed," he says. "A work is a work. It's a physical thing. What can you do? It's already over."
Caminero faces a felony charge of criminal mischief; he's scheduled a press conference later this afternoon to talk about the case.