Modern art is rubbish - and confusing for Tate cleaner

A bag of rubbish that was being displayed as a work of art at the Tate Britain gallery has been gathered up by one of the cleaners and thrown out with the trash.

A bag of rubbish that was being displayed as a work of art at the Tate Britain gallery has been gathered up by one of the cleaners and thrown out with the trash.

The transparent bin liner filled with waste paper was part of a piece by the artist Gustav Metzger, included in the gallery's show Art and The Sixties .

One of the gallery's cleaners took the piece and dropped it into a skip. By the time Tate staff realised what had happened and retrieved the bag, it had been too badly damaged to go back on display.

Art cynics might not be surprised to discover that Metzger was able to swiftly replace the piece with another bag of rubbish without gallery visitors noticing that anything was amiss.

It has taken two months for news of the gaffe to emerge but last night a spokesman for Tate Britain confirmed that the incident had taken place on 30 June, a day before the exhibition was due to open.

The spokesman said: "The bag was removed the morning before we first opened. It was not put in a crusher but in a skip. It was removed but it was seen that it was damaged. That's why the artist put another bag in its place."

He pointed out that Metzger had not actually had to pick up new rubbish to put in his replacement bin liner but had simply found one that had already been filled and discarded. "The bags are taken from where they are found and put in the [gallery] space," said the Tate. "He doesn't manipulate what's in the bag."

The rubbish is displayed alongside a sheet of nylon that has been spattered with hydrochloric acid, and a metal sculpture on a table. The piece is called Recreation Of First Public Demonstration Of Auto-Destructive Art , and mirrors a work that Metzger first displayed in 1961.

Metzger, who was born in Nuremberg, invented auto-destructive art in 1959. The concept is defined as "paintings, sculptures and constructions having a finite existence - after which they will be destroyed".

The Tate cleaning staff's inadvertent attempts to hasten this process have caused great embarrassment at the gallery. It is reported that an offer has been made to compensate the 78-year-old artist for the damage caused. The gallery said it was not its policy to discuss "financial arrangements relating to artworks", although The Independent understands that similar bags retail at £1 for ten.

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