November 4, 2011

Cleaning lady "cleans" artwork, making it "impossible to return it to its original state."

Martin Kippenberger's "When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling" was "a tower of wooden slats under which a rubber trough was placed with a thin beige layer of paint representing dried rain water." The cleaner went to work on the apparent stain.

My instinctive reaction to this story is that it's a publicity stunt for Kippenberger, because I've heard stories like this before. In fact, the linked news article reminds us of these past stories:
Works of art not infrequently fall victim to zealous cleaners. In 1986, a "grease stain" by Joseph Beuys... was mopped away at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf, western Germany.
I remember another that involved something that looked like a pile of trash. Sorry, I do not believe that galleries and museums put up displays worth 100s of 1000s of dollars and don't carefully instruct the cleaning staff about what not to touch. Oh, yeah, here's the trash one:
A bag of rubbish that was part of a Tate Britain work of art has been accidentally thrown away by a cleaner. The bag filled with discarded paper and cardboard was part of a work by Gustav Metzger, said to demonstrate the "finite existence" of art.
It was thrown away by a cleaner at the London gallery, which subsequently retrieved the damaged bag. The 78-year-old artist replaced it with a new bag. The gallery would not reveal whether he would be compensated.

The bag was part of Metzger's Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art, a copy of a piece he produced in 1960. Tate Britain said the work "is made up of several elements, one of which is a rubbish bag included by the artist as an integral part of the installation"....

Metzger, a German artist who lives in east London, invented "auto-destructive" art in 1959.
These artists are arting about destruction. So what counts as an integral part of the installation? I suspect they love it when the cleaning person cleans something. It gets in the press, and we're talking about these people now. I'm digging up this 7-year-old story!

I'm not saying the cleaning person is faking or nonexistent, but I think the exhibits are set up in a way that attracts the unwitting participation of the common non-artist for the titillation and lofty amusement of art consumers.

45 comments:

Tim said...

Outstanding. The denizens of "Act Out On Wall Street" need to defecate in Zucotti Park, and proclaim their bowel movements donated public art reflecting the quality of though of the movement, and therefore should not be cleaned up.

If we're lucky, we'll get a flash cholera outbreak that does not cross the park's boundaries.

Tim said...

Otherwise, NB to artists: if the common person mistakes your "art" for trash or an accident that needs to be cleaned up, it just might not be art, no matter how much the NEA subsidized it, or the cultural felchers agree with you.

Moose said...

If you can't tell that its art outside of a museum or gallery, then its not art. Sorry.

X said...

GIGO

Richard Dolan said...

"I think the exhibits are set up in a way that attracts the unwitting participation of the common non-artist for the titillation and lofty amusement of art consumers."

It's the phrase "titillation and lofty amusement" that catches the eye here -- the first suggesting a desire for voyeuristic gratification (a form of 'can't get no ...'), while the second adds to it, by pointing to distance from the daily (lowly) grind (getting that elusive 'satisfaction' is hard to achieve using a Newtonian force-at-a-distance approach). Nice.

In its way, Ann's commentary is in the tradition of Tom Wolfe's classic about Lenny's party for the Black Panthers. Never did a literary description of cheese balls (the hors d'oeuvres, not the party-goers) capture the essence of the moment better. He did the same thing with Clement Greenberg's art crticism. Ann writes in the same vein and scores a hit on the same target. Brava.

Pogo said...

The cleaning lady is the young child pointing out the Emperor has no clothes.

CJinPA said...

I guess there is no such thing as a "bad" PR stunt that gains publicity.

But the first reaction to these stories is: "Non-art exposed as non-art."

That can't be what they were going for.

CJinPA said...

Outstanding. The denizens of "Act Out On Wall Street" need to defecate in Zucotti Park, and...

OWS Denizen: Consider it done, bro.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...but I think the exhibits are set up in a way that attracts the unwitting participation of the common non-artist for the titillation and lofty amusement of art consumers.

In other words, the cleaning lady didn't defile the artwork, she consumated it.

Henry said...

Then there's the cleaning lady who damaged an ancient mummy in the Egyptian Museum by vacuuming it.

This happened a number of years ago and it turns out that "vacuum" and "mummy" generate very random google results, so I can't find a link. It may have been a cleaning man.

DADvocate said...

"auto-destructive" art

A good description of Obama's approach to the presidency.

madAsHell said...

The cleaner has better sense than the artist.

traditionalguy said...

Trash is as trash does. Art can be defined as the assignment of meaning to things men create as something that is more than just human detritus/trash.

One great art is perfect persons, but we often see them declared trash to be expunged when Planned Parenthood does what it does.

edutcher said...

If art is defined as having an intrinsic value easily discerned, this says a lot about modern art.

Foose said...

I think it was Charles Lamb's maid-of-all-work - the Victorian cleaning lady - who used the only manuscript of the first volume of Carlyle's The French Revolution to light the fire.

Lamb had been reviewing it for Carlyle, and was aghast to find the masterpiece incinerated, but "pale as Hector's ghost," he 'fessed up. Carlyle had to write it all again from memory.

Ann Althouse said...

"In its way, Ann's commentary is in the tradition of Tom Wolfe's classic about Lenny's party for the Black Panthers."

Thank you for the compliment. It motivated me to go over to Amazon and buy 3 Tom Wolfe books in Kindle. I want to be influenced by ... the right stuff.

Paddy O said...

The cleaning lady needs to be paid an adaptation fee, for her contribution to the art's meaning and experience in this world.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Cleaning lady "cleans" artwork, making it "impossible to return it to its original state."

What, have they stopped making beige paint?

ic said...

Trash "art" collected by trash collectors. Why is it news?

Whoever put those trash in museums and called them art should be fired and barred from working in museums.

Amy said...

Doesn't the fact that the cleaning lady threw it out reinforce the "finite existence" of art? PR move or not, this is just one more example of how ridiculous this whole non-art movement is.

Scott M said...

If we're holding up obvious garbage as works of art, I'd say the old hard-line Soviets won that particular battle of the Cold War.

gerry said...

Contemporary intellectuals pursue diagnosis via art. I feel like I'm in Weimar.

We are also sharing the 800,000 pounds the insurance company will cough up for the ludicrous crap.

George Wallace said...

The "publicity stunt for Kippenberger" theory is ever so slightly undercut by the fact that the poor fellow died of liver cancer in Vienna in 1997.

He gets major museum retrospectives and everything, so his reputation probably doesn't need the "help".

Palladian said...

I'm sure that Martin Kippenberger would enjoy the publicity, except for the fact that he's been dead for about 14 years.

But hey, this post gives me yet another opportunity to enjoy the trenchant art criticism of the Althouse commenters, which is almost nearly as enlightening, original and brilliant as their political commentary has become!

ignatzk said...

Paddy O said...
The cleaning lady needs to be paid an adaptation fee, for her contribution to the art's meaning and experience in this world.


She turned static art into performance art. voila!
 

Geoff Matthews said...

Maybe they should stop making art that looks like garbage.

Scott M said...

Maybe they should stop making art that looks like garbage.

HOWARD JOHNSON IS RIGHT!!!

ken in sc said...

Art as it exists today is a con-job.

ricpic said...

The story uncovered by this story is that art, like every other endeavor, has boundaries. Push art beyond a painted image or a sculpted form and you have something that can be rationalized to be art by intellectuals but which isn't art and never can be art. All the avant garde knashing of teeth to the contrary, there really are limits -- to everything.

Scott M said...

Art as it exists today is a con-job.

Virtually all humor is a con-job, but I'd say today's stand up philosophers are pretty damned good performance art.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Nah. Just insurance fraud. Have the art "thrown away," collect the insurance, and you still haven't lost anything worthwhile.

Probably also works for money laundering.

Mary Beth said...

So, my teenage children aren't just reluctant to put down the game controller and throw their trash away, they are creating art! Perhaps instead of requiring them to pick it up I should encourage them to apply for a grant.

ricpic said...

Yikes, gnashing not knashing.

Dennis said...

The classical canon had to be mothballed due to the new discoveries in material and methods of construction that were pioneered in the 19th and 20th centuries (Charles Jenck's account in "Modern Movements in Architecture"). Revolutions in science and technology (rail, telegraph/telephone, tanks, electric lighting, etc.) prompted a wholesale revamping of the definition of art (Robert Hughes' "Shock of the New"). The struggle to recodify art in contemporary terms can be called Modern Art. Efforts to blur distinctions can be called PostModern Art.

To be Modern is to reconcile the life you are living with the things you are making. High Modernism (my favorite example: the New York School of Abstract Painting in the late 50's) tried to touch G-d via material means. PostModernism tried to touch everyday life via conceptual means. Late PostModernism derives its authority from the Conceptual label.

The distinction between art and life, between imagination and reality is the animating theme in the cleaning lady & Kippenberger story. Blurring distinctions has long been a positive value in the art world and it happens to nest comfortably within the PostModern worldview... but it is only half of the story of art.

Blurring the boundary between fantasy and reality is well understood today by culture at all levels. Pushing this agenda towards absurdity is also well understood by mental health professionals as a definition of mental illness.

As of today, the PostModern era is over 50 years old and counting, these are the end times for PostModernism, it has run its course. The challenge for contemporary artists today is to conceive the next chapter in art history and to do this, they/we have to question all the assumptions we have inherited and imagine the path forward.

veni vidi vici said...

Art is a fart in the dark.

Methadras said...

She did the think a favor. 800K euro for wood slats. Think about that 1%'ers.

Sigivald said...

I'll believe the valuation when someone pays it.

And then I'll laugh at them.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Darling, you must come and read this at once!"
"What is it?"
"Simply delightful! It's about the gauche foibles of the common classes at the Ostwall."

mtrobertsattorney said...

Any serious discussion of art criticism must take into account the ideas of Marsilio Ficino and Kant. Since few of those who hold themselves out to be art critics have studied either and many more who have never even heard of them, we are left with art criticism by cleaning ladies. But all things considered, this may not be a bad thing.

Dennis said...

Oh you guys!

This story is merely sensational. An art conservator can easily repair it, but the piece will not be the original after all. A collector has a ruined piece, so what?

Kippenberger is a great artist. He has a solid part of art history. In terms that Right-thinking people would understand: his market is proven, his work is well priced, perhaps low. I advise you all to buy, at least a small work on paper or something of that scale. You might be able to pay for your grandchildren's college someday!

If more conservatives participated in art collecting, and by this I don't mean buying Frederic Remington, they might have a stronger say in what is art or not.

mythusmage said...

That's the thing, Ann, people may hear what you have to say, it doesn't mean they're listening.

WV depur: Silencing the cat.

Ben G. said...

I've worked in museums since the 80s, and we did a reverse of this when I was constructing exhibits. The museum held an annual juried art exhibition, which takes weeks to assemble and hang. During this assembly time, we took a whole bunch of cardboard pieces that we used for backing in the spray booth, with a huge range of colors, and arranged them on the floor of the gallery. The fine arts curator ran around for days trying to find out who the artist was, and why it wasn't in the binder with the other selections, and whether that was how it was to be exhibited. Lasted until the day before the opening and somebody spilled the beans. I really enjoyed putting the barriers around the 'piece'.

Jose_K said...

Years ago, supposedly, Boy Scouts in France cleaned cave paints .
But for modern art, the lady did was everything in comtemporary art deserve

jeff said...

"It is now impossible to return it to its original state," the spokeswoman said. No problem. I'm sure they can find a monkey or a 3 year old to fix it up. And i read the article and know the artist is dead, but I'm unclear on how death decrapifies this art.

Jeff Hall said...

"My instinctive reaction to this story is that it's a publicity stunt for Kippenberger, because I've heard stories like this before."

If only the cleaning of the Elgin Marbles would turn out to have been a publicity stunt!