Lorenzo Roca, from the cleaning firm Chiarissima, said the woman was “only doing her job” after throwing away the works, which consisted of cardboard and newspaper as well as biscuit pieces that were scattered across the floor, Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno reported.
He said the cleaner, who he described as “honest and meticulous”, saw “empty containers stacked up” and so alerted recycling staff at the Sala Murat, where the ‘Mediating Landscape’ exhibition is being held.
“This has never happened before, despite many other important exhibitions being held here,” he said.
The company will cover the €10,000 bill with its insurance.
Antonio Maria Vasile, the marketing commissioner at Bari council, apologised for the incident, adding that “it is obvious the cleaner did not realise they were works of art”.
“But this is all about the artists who have been able to better interpret the meaning of contemporary art, which is to interact with the environment,” he added.
The Italian cleaner is not alone in having unwittingly thrown away works of contemporary art.
A Damien Hirst collection of beer bottles, coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays was thrown out of an exhibition in London in 2001, while in 2004 a bag of paper and cardboard by German artist Gustav Metzger was cleared away at the Tate Britain.