An Art Critic Accidentally Shattered a $19,000 Glass Sculpture at the Zona Maco Fair With a Wayward Can of Coke

Gabriel Rico's sculpture "exploded" when art critic Avelina Lesper attempted to place a can of soda on it.

Gabriel Rico's sculpture lies in pieces at Galeria OMR, Zona Maco 2020. Photo by Katie White.
Gabriel Rico's sculpture lies in pieces at Galeria OMR, Zona Maco 2020. Photo by Katie White.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but what about a coke can?

A Mexican art critic destroyed a sculpture by one of the country’s up-and-coming artists at its most prominent art fair on Saturday. The large glass work by Gabriel Rico was the centerpiece of Mexico City-based Galería OMR’s stand at the Zona Maco—at least, it was until the art critic Avelina Lésper’s klutzy intervention.

Exactly how the sculpture—which featured a soccer ball, a tennis ball, a stone, and other found objects seemingly suspended in a single sheet of glass—ended up a pile of objects on the floor surrounded by debris and glass shards remains in dispute. The critic was conducting a guided tour of the fair when, Artnet News understands, she placed a Coke can on one of the stone elements in order to take a picture as a critique of the work.

Lésper, who is known as a provocateur, defended herself, telling Milenio, the Mexico City newspaper she writes for, that she placed the can near, but not on, the sculpture when it shattered. “I had an empty can of soda, I tried to put it on one of the stones, but the work exploded,” she said. “It was like the work heard my comment and felt what I thought of it.” She denied deliberately endangering the work, or attempting to leave the scene of the accident.

“We are very sad and disappointed by what happened today,” OMR said in a statement on Instagram, accompanied by an image of the aftermath. “We don’t understand how an alleged professional art critic destroyed a work.” The gallery blamed Lésper for getting too close to the sculpture, adding that she showed “a huge lack of professionalism and respect” for the artist, whose work was included in the central exhibition of the 2019 Venice Biennale. 

The 2018 work, titled Nimble and Sinister Tricks (To Be Preserved Without Scandal and Corruption), was priced at $19,000. It is unclear whether Rico will recreate the work, or who will pay for it. “I am sad because this was very disrespectful for the pieces,” the artist said in a statement. “This is a regrettable situation.” 

The art critic risked rubbing salt in gallery’s wounded feelings when, in a conversation with the dealer following the accident, she reportedly suggested they sell the broken work, comparing its destruction to the fate of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass. (When the French artist’s famous glass sculpture was accidentally damaged in transit, he responded that it was now complete.) The affair soon began trending on social media, with some people blaming the work, not the critic, for its downfall, saying the glass was too weak and Lésper was right to make a point. 

The Guadalajara-based artist Gabriel Rico, who was born in 1980, often uses found objects in his carefully arranged installations, which combine references to Surrealism, Arte Povera, and popular culture. Less fragile examples of his work can be admired—and safety touched—in “Recover/Uncover,” a sculpture and design show organized by Masa, a peripatetic design gallery in Mexico City. The group show is on view in a distressed historic mansion alongside the art fair Zona Maco. A spokesman for the fair did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 


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