A disgruntled janitor or group of janitors at the renowned  Kunstacadamie Duesseldorf (Düsseldorf Academy of Art) has destroyed over 60 artworks. Mostly canvases, many of the pieces were slashed with a knife and stomped on to break their stretchers. They were then thrown in a dumpster in the academy’s courtyard.

Understandably, the students whose work was trashed are outraged. “The whole situation is extremely emotional,” their chosen representative, said Sabrina Straub. Many of the works that were destroyed had not yet been assessed by the students’ professors. Others were to be sold.

Considering the consistently illustrious careers of the academy’s alumni—among them some of  Germany’s most expensive, such as Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke, Günther Uecker, and Thomas Schütte, as well as recent star David Ostrowski—the long-term economic impact of the destruction could be in the millions.

The Kunstakademie Düsseldorf’s director, Rita McBride, was similarly floored by the incident. “It’s just terrible for the students,” she told the paper. “The works are irreplaceable.” However, in a letter to the academy’s student body the administration’s contrition was more measured. It read, “Relevant members of the janitorial staff have been spoken to about their flawed approach,” in this matter.

Kunstakademie Düsseldorf Photo: Wiegels via Wikimedia Commons

Though the exact culprit or culprits behind the works’ destruction remain unknown, their motivation was quickly apparent. For years students were permitted to store finished works in the hallways of the Kunstakademie buildings due to inadequate storage facilities. However, due to recently-tightened fire regulations, a two week maximum was placed on the amount of time works could be left there.

In the past, works that had been left in the hallways for lengthy periods were brought to the courtyard at predetermined times for the students to pick up. In this case, however, it appears that the janitorial staff wanted to make an example out of some chronic offenders—not coincidentally some of the academy’s most productive pupils—and began slashing.

Almost unbelievably, the administration has attempted to put a positive spin on the incident. McBride said, “Maybe we needed this to happen.” If it were some misguided and unsolicited attempt to give the students a dose of discipline, it was unsuccessful. Seeing the trashed art, many dragged the works right back into the hallways.

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