Earlier this week, an artist upset at the fact that a museum in Miami was not, to his mind, showcasing enough local art decided to do something about it. He marched into an exhibition of work by the well-known Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, picked up one of the vases that formed part of an art installation, and smashed it to pieces. This type of vandalism seems to be occurring with greater frequency of late, such as the incidents at the Menil Collection and at Westminster Abbey, which I have written about previously. Paradoxically, one of the reasons for this uptick in criminal behavior, I believe, is the faulty philosophy being spouted by contemporary artists like Mr. Weiwei himself, among others, who have not thought through the implications of the path down which they are leading us.
Ai Weiwei seems strangely disturbed by what took place at the museum. I say “strangely”, because this installation by Mr. Weiwei – whose appeal remains a mystery to me – consists in part of a group of antiquities which he himself vandalized. As ArtNews Daily reported:
Ai had painted the urn, which dates from the Han dynasty of 206BC-220AD, in bright colours as part of his “Coloured Vases”, on show at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Behind it stood a trio of large photographs depicting the artist dropping another Han dynasty pot to the floor, where it shatters into little pieces, “to express the notion that new ideas and values can be produced through iconoclasm”.
For someone who engages in vandalism as part of his “art”, it would seem to be just a teeny-weeny bit hypocritical for Mr. Weiwei to become angry at another artist for doing precisely the same sort of thing that he does.
More to the point, for Mr. Weiwei to suggest that “ideas and values” result through iconoclasm is, rather paradoxically, for him to mimic those who are oppressing him. By uttering such poorly-considered statements, he seemingly approves of the very sort of repressive purging which, for example, his own country went through under Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, where anything and everything that smacked of artistic innovation or freedom of expression was destroyed. One would think that someone whom the art community fawns over as being a prisoner of conscience would demonstrate that he does, in fact have a conscience, at least when it comes to respecting the artistic creations of others, let alone the cultural heritage of his own civilization.
Iconoclasm tears down; it does not create. Going into a museum and smashing a work of art to make a point, as occurred here, is reprehensible. However it is precisely in the type of anarchy being celebrated by the contemporary art community that such practices become a self-fulfilling prophecy of what will happen to other museums and galleries in the future. For in the end, if the artist himself does not respect the object, then why should the viewer? Promoting certain acts of artistic vandalism for the sake of creating art of questionable value, while at the same time decrying others, is not only an example of faulty reasoning, but evidence that things are headed in the wrong direction.