Insurers value Martin Kippenberger's It Starts Dripping From The Ceiling at $1.1 million. At least they did until a cleaning woman mistook the piece of art for an unsightly mess.
As per her job description, the unnamed custodian "cleaned" the mess, causing irreparable damage to the piece. "It is now impossible to return it to its original state," said a spokeswoman for Germany's Ostwall Museum, where Kippenberger's art had been on display thanks to a loan from a private collector.
How does something like this happen? Perhaps it's easier to understand with a description of the piece (for whatever reason, the 'net seems to be completely devoid of any actual pictures).
Prior to its destruction, Kippenberger's installation consisted of "a tower of wooden slats under which a rubber trough was placed with a thin beige layer of paint representing dried rain water." Thinking the paint was an actual stain, as opposed to a meaningful commentary on whatever it was supposed to be commenting on, the cleaning woman did her thing and removed the offending pigmentation.
According to museum officials, cleaning staff is instructed to maintain a distance of at least eight inches from all art installations, though it is "unclear if the woman had received the directive from the external company that employed her."
Obviously there's a jumping off point here for a discussion on the validity of art that the layperson instantly perceives as nothing more than a mess to be cleaned with industrial solvents, but more crucially, I think this incident highlights the laudable industriousness of the German cleaning industry.
Sure, the world has lost a valuable, irreplaceable piece of art, but it has also gained proof of the existence of a working class hero who will stop at nothing to eradicate filth. That's gotta be worth something, right?