Tuesday 18 February 2014

Dropping Urns

I'm not one to condone the vandalising of works of art (especially portraits of Henry James), but I must say my sympathies are a little torn in the case of the chap who dropped an Ai Weiwei pot and smashed it. The incident - read all about it here - took place in a Miami gallery, where a man described as a local artist responded to an Ai Weiwie artwork by picking up one of the gaudily painted urns that constitute said artwork and, when challenged, dropping it to the ground and breaking it - just as Ai Weiwei is seen to do in the black-and-white photographs that form the backdrop to the gaudy urns. Indeed the whole kaboodle is titled Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn. According to Ai Weiwei, the gaudy urns are indeed of the Han dynasty, and a valuation of $1 million per urn has been put on them, whether as Han urns or as Ai Weiwei artworks is unclear. If they are indeed of the Han Dynasty, Ai has certainly done a good job of ruining them with that hideous paintwork.
  The 'local artist's' motives seem confused, his defence being that (a) he was making a protest about big-money international artists' work monopolising provincial galleries, and/or (b) that he got carried away, joining in the spirit of the thing by smashing an urn, just like Ai Weiwei. Perhaps things will become clearer later, but for now it looks roughly like this: Big-money international artist smashes valuable urn - that's Art. Small-time local artist smashes valuable (but hideously painted) urn - that's a crime. 


  1. To be fair, I think there's a pretty clear distinction: Ai Weiwei owned the vase he smashed.

    But on a wider note, it often crosses my mind in galleries, especially very busy ones like the National Gallery, how easy it would be to idly vandalise one of the priceless pieces of art.... and also how remarkable it is that it so rarely happens even though thousands of people of all backgrounds get close enough to do it every day.

  2. Yes it is remarkable, and rather heartening.
    The urn incident reminded me of that unfortunate chap who had a Norman Wisdom moment on the stairs at the Fitzwilliam and managed to smash not one, not two, but three valuable Chinese vases before he finally came to rest among their smithereens...