I immediately recognized the photos in the background as Ai Weiwei’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn wherein he lets go of an antique piece of pottery art and lets it smash on the ground. What’s interesting is that the pot that’s smashed in the news report is another of these Han Dynasty Urns that Ai Weiwei has “appropriated” by painting them bright colours.
Ai Weiwei has condemned the vandal which is interesting because it raises the question of whether or not this is hypocritical. Ai Weiwei was also dismayed when his Coca Cola Urn was smashed to create a similar triptych to Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn for the artwork Fragments of History, the difference that time being that the Coca Cola Urn was dropped by it’s legal owner at the time.
There are different laws around the world that protect an artist’s “moral rights” based on the idea that art is a bit like a horcrux, the artist puts a part of themselves into their art and these laws often award damages when the integrity of the artwork is breached let alone when the artwork itself is destroyed. However Ai Weiwei is a major part of a tradition of making art that ignores the “moral rights” of previous artists, appropriating, vandalizing and destroying the art of others to create new art. Does this make his decrying of the destruction or appropriation his own work hypocritical?
Ai Weiwei’s works, however, are certainly far more culturally impactful than the works they destroy. Does that give them some kind of get out of jail free card? Is that get out of jail free card not extended to the vandals who have destroyed Ai Weiwei’s work because their “works” are arguably less notable?