It was reported today that an artwork by Martin Kippenberger, on loan to the Ostwall Museum in Dortmund, Germany, was last month damaged beyond repair by an over-zealous cleaner. The installation, ‘When It Starts Dripping From The Ceiling’, is described by France24.com as “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 apparently mistook the beige paint as a real stain and conscientiously scrubbed it “until it gleamed.” She failed to recognise that what she had wiped clean was an integral part of an artwork which insurers estimate to be worth over $1 million.
Maybe Kippenberger would be flattered that the unfortunate cleaner was taken in by the verisimilitude of his work. Maybe the late Kippenberger’s talent was so great that she, a humble cleaner, believed in the truth of his stain, and did only what she was paid to do which was to clean it. Maybe the private collector who loaned the work to the museum will be grateful that through her innocent actions the cleaner has proved the worth of the piece, even though by unconsciously causing this damage she has reduced its value immeasurably. Or maybe the cleaner isn’t so ignorant after all and her actions were a conscious and piercing critique of the artwork in the vein of the man who urinated in Duchamp’s urinal.