Cleaner Damages Artwork Worth $1m

Diverging slightly from the usually quite serious topics on our blog, an article appeared on the BBC News website which warranted a mention.
It drew attention to one particular cleaner, who in a bid to do a thorough job, had ended up making a very valuable mistake.  Whilst cleaning the Dortmund’s Ostwall Museum , the cleaner damaged a piece of modern artwork, in an attempt to make (what they thought) was the area surrounding the piece, clean and tidy.

The artwork, named “Wenn’s anfaengt durch die Decke zu tropfen”, which when translated means, ‘When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling’, was created by late German Modern Artist Martin Kippenberger.
When looking at the piece, it’s not hard to understand how the cleaner made a mistake.  The sculpture is composed of strips of wood, nailed together to make an unsteady structure.  Beneath that is a trough-like dish, which had been hand-painted with a patina effect.  The term ‘pantina’ describes a distressed, dusty and dirty appearance, which had been applied to inside the bottom of the bucket.  This looked, as the artist had intended it, like the marks left from rain water that had collected there, and then evaporated.

It was this patina effect painted on the trough that the cleaner had mistaken for dirt.  They then proceeded to scrub this effect off the dish, in order to remove the unsightly blemish.

Unfortunately, by striving for cleanliness, the cleaner made a very costly mistake.  The piece was worth an excess of £624,000, in other words, over $1m.

picture frame

Due to the death of the artist Kippenberger in 1997, the artwork cannot be restored to its original form, or appear exactly as the artist intended it.  However, the collector who had loaned the piece to the museum is willing to keep the artwork there, in its slightly altered state, until a decision can be made about the way to proceed.
This expensive error by the cleaner appears to be in breach of the instructions they were given prior to commencing work at the museum.  The daily cleaners, provided by a contractor, had been told strictly to remain 20cm away from the pieces in the showrooms.  The staff, according to the report, had been working in the Ostwall Museum since last October, so explanations for why this incident happened are still being searched for.

So as a cleaning contractor, what does this incident say to us at Newlife Cleaning Systems?

Firstly, it’s excellent that the cleaner was leaving no stone unturned, but this story shows that being thorough isn’t always the best thing…

Secondly, the incident seems to have occurred because the cleaner hadn’t followed instructions, or had missed out on an essential briefing.  So this story emphasises the importance of communication within such an organisation.

Finally, it’s a testament to artist Martin Kippenberger that his patina was so convincing that a cleaner felt the need to clean it!

For a daily cleaning service that won’t ruin any highly valuable goods, Newlife Cleaning Systems can offer all types of cleaning service, from specialist cleaning services to daily office cleaning services.  If you would like any more information about us, please contact us on 0800 018 9909.

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