In our ever-shifting and often nebulous world—one littered with half-truths and rampant obfuscation—what actually constitutes art?
Maybe it's a tangled mass of sentient and convulsing tentacles, à la H.R. Giger. Or could it be an unmade bed, complete with rumpled sheets, empty vodka bottles, and used condoms? Whatever the case, art is arguably the most subjective medium through which humans express themselves.
Which is exactly what one Italian janitor learned the hard way after mistakenly believing an entire art instillation to be the very trash she deals with every day of her life.
Italy's Museion Bozen-Bolzano—located in the northern province of Alto Adige—sadly informed its patrons via its Facebook page that a janitor under its employ accidentally "cleaned up" the entirety of a new art installation. The work of art—which was a joint effort by Italian artists Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari—consisted of numerous empty Champagne bottles, bits of clothing, cigarette butts, and brightly colored confetti, all strewn about an empty room.
İtalya'da Goldschmied ve Chiari'ye ait bu çalışma, müzedeki temizlik görevlisi tarafından çöp sanılarak temizlendi. pic.twitter.com/bh5O8AJT6c
— SANATATAK (@sanatatak) October 27, 2015
The contemporary work of art was titled "Where Shall We Go Dancing Tonight?" and was meant to reflect how the artists "were children in the 1980s … a period of consumerism, hedonism, financial speculation, mass media, socialist politics and parties." Which is pretty damn fitting, considering exactly how shit went down.
"The cleaner was new, and was asked to clean up the room where we held a book presentation the night before," explained the museum's director, Letizia Ragaglia, to NBC News. "When she saw all the bottles of Champagne in the foyer, she thought that must have been the right room."
Thankfully, the recycling teachings of Captain Planet and his merry band of Planeteers have yet again saved the day from dire repercussions. "She placed everything in the recycling bins, so we could retrieve most of the items—minus 30 bottles of Champagne—and could recreate the installation from scratch," added Ragaglia. It is unclear what happened to those bottles of Champagne.
Alas, the acerbic art world couldn't let things rest as they then stood, retrieved from a dumpster, which we imagine was positively lousy with rotten pasta. One of Italy's most prominent art critics, Vittorio Sgarbi, said the janitor "was right" in her assertion that the instillation belonged in the trash. "If she thought it was rubbish, it means it was. Art should be understood by everyone—including cleaners," Sgarbi explained to NBC News. He went on to say, "The fact that the museum could simply pick the pieces from the trash bin and put them back together shows you that wasn't art in the first place."
This most certainly isn't the European art world's first rodeo as far as dumpster-diving is concerned, either. Last February ,in the Adriatic city of Bari, an art installation consisting of newspapers and cardboard was thrown out by a cleaner who was "just doing her job." A 2001 Damien Hirst installation—consisting of coffee cups, beer bottles, and overflowing ashtrays—at London's Eyestorm Gallery was also accidentally removed. And in what is perhaps the most amusing of mistaken art-for-trash imbroglios, back in 1999, a housewife from Wales tried to clean up Tracey Emin's "My Bed," only to be caught by security guards in the knick of time.