In December, an artist named David Datuna walked into a gallery at Art Basel Miami, peeled the show's most talked-about piece off the wall, and ate the entire thing in front of undoubtedly shocked attendees (and in front of whoever was filming him for his own Instagram account).
Maurizio Cattelan, the artist whose $120,000 duct tape-and-banana installation had just been devoured, essentially shrugged off Datuna's attempt at one-upmanship. Instead, he just found another banana, tore off another strip of tape, and stuck it back in the same spot. "He did not destroy the art work," a representative for Cattelan's gallery said of Datuna. "The banana is the idea."
But when controversial art critic Avelina Lésper accidentally wrecked a piece at the Zona Maco art fair in Mexico City, both the artist and the gallery where it was displayed were less forgiving. For starters, Galería OMR questioned her professionalism, and suggested that she might be on the hook for the work's $20,000 price tag.
There are conflicting reports about what actually happened to Gabriel Rico's piece, which was called Nimble and sinister tricks (To be preserved without scandal and corruption). Some have suggested that Lésper had placed an empty soda can on the work, which was made of both found and natural objects suspended inside a pane of glass. Lésper admitted that she "tried" to put the can on a stone that was in the center of the piece, and a friend of Lésper's said that it just exploded as she approached it because of its "weak structure."
Regardless of where she and that soda can were, the work did shatter into thousands of pieces, leaving the floor littered with shards of glass and an extra-sad looking soccer ball.
Lésper might not have helped her own cause when she admitted that she'd been shit-talking the piece before it was wrecked. "It was like the work heard my comment and felt what I thought of it," she told the Milenio newspaper. (According to NPR, Lesper recommended that Galería OMR just keep all the shards on display instead—a suggestion that it declined—but she also offered to replace the glass panel. A gallery spokesperson confirmed to VICE that all of the Nimble and sinister components were collected in case they would be needed for any future insurance claims.)
"At OMR we are very sad and disappointed by what happened today at the Zona Maco art fair. We do not understand how an alleged professional art critic destroyed a work by one of the most outstanding artists of the moment," the gallery told VICE in a statement.
"Although it seems to have been accidental and is irrelevant as to how it happened, the action of Ms. Lésper of getting too close to the work of art to put a can of soda on it and take a picture to make a criticism, had undoubtedly caused the destruction, and is above all, a huge lack of professionalism and respect."
A spokesperson for the gallery said that the matter of compensation was "still under discussion," and that it was working to receive any CCTV footage of the incident from the convention center where the event was held. "As it turns out, our booth was not visible from their cameras," he said.
"I am sad because this was very disrespectful for the pieces,” the artist told ArtNet in a statement. “This is a regrettable situation.”
It is regrettable—and not just because Lésper missed an opportunity to eat Nimble and sinister tricks, one bite of soccer ball at a time. Because as we all learned at Art Basel, that's not vandalism—it's performance art.