In an alternate universe, it could have been performance art. But unfortunately, when Gabriel Rico’s 2018 sculpture made of brass, objects like a soccer ball, and—crucially—a giant pane of glass smashed to smithereens at Zona Maco in Mexico City on Saturday, it was simply a tragic mistake. “Nimble and Sinister Tricks (To Be Preserved With out Scandal and Corruption),” presented by Galería OMR, had fallen victim to a writer and critic named Avelina Lésper, who in turn suffered what might be every art lover’s worst nightmare.
And yet, Lésper was not mortified. She unabashedly owned up to it—even after learning that the sculpture, which she’d been openly criticizing before the fatal incident, was priced at $20,000. “The work shattered into pieces and collapsed and fell on the floor,” she said in a video for Milenio. “It was like the work heard my comment and felt what I thought of it.” (You can see the original work—one of Rico’s signature combinations of man-made objects, like tennis balls, with items found in nature, like rocks—here.)
To add insult to injury, Lésper suggested that rather than damaging the work, she had improved it; if left in its current state of destruction, she argued, the work would showcase its evolution. Suffice it to say the gallery wasn’t keen on the idea.
Of course, “Nimble and Sinister Tricks” is not the first work to fall victim to negligence at an art fair; inviting hundreds of people to navigate their way around delicate valuables is essentially a recipe for disaster. Some, like Jeff Koons, have accepted as much. “It’s not the end of the world,” he said when an Art Basel Miami Beach fairgoer unwittingly smashed one of his miniature balloon dogs in 2016. “All these things are very relevant and you never like to see anything go to waste, but that can be re-created.” (Especially if, like Koons, your work is the world’s most expensive by a living artist.)
Unfortunately for Lésper, Galería OMR has not been so forgiving. “We are very sad and disappointed,” the gallery said on Instagram in a statement, which was originally written in Spanish. “We do not understand how a supposed professional critic of art destroyed a work.” According to OMR’s side of the story, Lésper got too close to the sculpture because she was putting a soda can on it, intending to take a photo as a critique. And that, “undoubtedly,” was what led to the sculpture’s destruction.
Noting that Rico was selected for last year’s Venice Biennale, and has solo shows at museums like the Aspen Art Museum, OMR stressed that the 39-year-old is currently one of its most sought-after artists. As for Lésper, the gallery didn’t mince words in expressing its contempt. “Above all,” the statement continued, the critic’s behavior was “a huge lack of professionalism and respect.”
After OMR rejected Lésper’s suggestion to leave the artwork in its current state, she offered to help out with its repair. OMR is currently in talks with Rico and Zona Maco’s organizers about how best to move forward, and promised an update is on the way.