December 8, 2010  |  Artists, Conservation
Conservation of Floor Cake (Part 8)

This is the final blog post for the conservation of Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake.

Below you can see the individual layers after cleaning.

After surface cleaning we completed minor filling and inpainting on areas of loss.

Toning filled losses with watercolors.

Filling was completed on the toppings with Beckers Latex spackle and small losses were integrated with Winsor Newton watercolors.

Detail of paint losses on the chocolate drop


Sample of polyurethane foam along with ice cream box from inside the cake

We were then confronted with a couple of internal structural issues. The cake had become considerably more flattened over the last 50 years.

The polyurethane foam stuffing has lost volume due to degradation, resulting in an increasingly deflated cake. We investigated different fillings, searching for a material that is archival and lightweight. Since a large majority of the of foam is soft and still intact, we decided to add to the original foam instead of totally replacing it. After consultation with colleagues in textile conservation we chose to use 1 lb etha-foam contained in muslin bags.

Smaller cut pieces of ethafoam inserted into muslin bag with draw string

Blocks of 1lb ethafoam

With this method we could keep supplemented materials together, allowing for them to be easily removed in the future, while retaining as much of the original as possible.  This afforded an archival, efficient, and low-cost method of supplemental stuffing.

We then inserted the bags into the deflated layers of cake, placing them in key areas to support vulnerable parts.

Now for just a moment we would like to step back and show you an archival image taken of Floor Cake in 1975 (on the left) and compare that to an image taken of Cake as we began this study and treatment (on the right).

You can see that the locations of the drop and sprinkle have shifted over the years. In the cake’s early days its crate was not large enough to house it as a whole, so the toppings had to be removed for transit. Through the course of our examination we located original tether locations for the drop and the sprinkle.

This is an image of the cake after surface cleaning, minor consolidation, supplemental stuffing, and reattachment of the toppings in their 1975 locations.

We studied the earlier treatments and evaluated their effectiveness. We looked at the current research and available techniques. We chose a combination of dry and wet cleaning techniques to extract as much grime as possible with minimal mechanical action. We are pleased with the results of this treatment and will be advocating for the use of a platform or stanchions in the future to prevent curious visitors from touching Floor Cake.

Postprints of this project, as presented at The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works 2010 annual conference, will be forthcoming and available through the Objects Specialty Group.

Thanks for reading and please look for more MoMA Conservation projects in the future.


I would really enjoy seeing before and after pictures (in color) of some detail areas so I can better appreciate the amount of effort that went into this project. How many hours would you say the project took in total?

I love all of these posts! They have been helpful in my brief research project for a conservation class I am taking. Fascinating field. Question: Are the sprinkle and dollop attached in anyway to the top layer? You mentioned “tether” evidence…were these parts detached for the original crates and then just sat back on top for past exhibitions? or were they given some new type of attachment? I see in some photos when you are working on the dollop that it is detached, so it must come off somehow. What is their current attachment/detachment mechanism?

My father was a sculpture conservator at MoMA in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I had a lot of sewing experience, including as a restoration intern at the Met’s Costume Institute, and I reattached the icing to the cake in the 1970’s. I used nylon fishing line and a large, curved darning needle to sew it back on.

I find really interesting blogging about treatments, especially considering it’s in stake here the conservation of modern mediums and contemporary art. But really remarkable I find in fact having Wendy’s comment on a previous treatment here. I would have liked to hear from the conservators more feedback on this thou. Wendy gave us information about treatment history on this piece and probably could had much more.
Neverthelless, I want to congrat both conservators on both treatment and blogging. Thank you!

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