Ironic Iconoclasm

Ironic Iconoclasm
by Taliesin Thomas, 1st year IDSVA student

This past February a local artist entered the newly opened Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), made his way over to the “Colored Pots” installation by Ai Weiwei, seized one of the sixteen Neolithic vases and let it smash to the floor.

Colored Pots by Ai Weiwei

He essentially imitated the vision of Ai doing the exact same thing in a photographic triptych titled “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” on the wall behind the piece. The international press went aflame reporting the incident. Ai is normally outspoken when given the chance to seize the media podium to discuss his art, his problematic situation in China and manifold issues beyond the pale—this time he went on record as denouncing the move. Some argued this stance was rather ironic, considering Ai is also quoted as declaring: “What’s my favorite word? It’s act.” The philosopher Kojève—speaking in Hegelian parlance—writes that “man can only be satisfied by action.” In this particular case it is precisely the iconoclastic activity of one ignoramus that momentarily entertains every facet of the contemporary art world.

People were quick to cite the cost of the work (estimated at one million USD), the crude nature of the vandalism, and the ongoing debate concerning the presentation of art and the representation (or under-representation) of artists. On the one hand, artists employ every possible medium and behavior by which to express their ideas—destructive performance included. On the other, we still can’t seem to gauge the artistic act—or act of protest—that involves subversion. Ai has justified his destruction of the Han urn as an effort to call attention to larger issues of cultural demise and commodification in contemporary China. The vandal at PAMM said he emulated Ai as a form of protest on behalf of all the artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums there, despite the millions of dollars being spent to present international artists. This specific episode faithfully reflects the Kantian-cum-Hegelian “vicious circle” of philosophical inquiry: after literally smashing aesthetic reality to smithereens, what remains?