November 23, 2009  |  Artists, Conservation
Claes Oldenburg: Conservation of Floor Cake (Week 4)
Floor Cake, MoMA gallery

Floor Cake, installed in a MoMA gallery

Looking forward, our preservation of Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake aims to bring the object to a state that more closely resembles the artist’s original intent. It will also stabilize the condition of the sculpture so that it can both endure a rigorous exhibition schedule and be safe in long-term storage. To develop a successful treatment plan, we considered the sculpture in distinct sections based on its materials:

Canvas. Treatment will stabilize the overall structure by mending minor tears and punctures to the canvas. The surface will be thoroughly inspected and recorded.

Filling. The condition of the foam and cardboard boxes that make up the cake’s stuffing will be carefully recorded to monitor for degradation. While the current state of Floor Cake’s foam filling is acceptable for exhibition (the foam is slightly discolored but retains a volume acceptable to fill the cake), it is likely that the foam will become increasingly hard and brittle, and will lose volume over time. Without preventative measures, the foam would eventually disintegrate, leaving nothing to fill the cake. We plan to measure the contents of the cake, recording both the weight and volume of the foam. Conservation scientists are currently working on new treatments to arrest the rapid degradation of polyurethane foam, an inherently unstable material. We also hope to discuss the cake filling with the artist to propose stable materials that might be used as a substitute.

Acrylic Paint. Areas of the paint layer that show flaking or are otherwise unstable will be made secure with an appropriate adhesive, and we will clean the surface of dirt and grime. Devising a way to safely clean the large expanses of painted canvas will be our greatest challenge in the treatment of Floor Cake. There has been a longstanding interest in the conservation field in developing new techniques to clean artworks with acrylic surfaces, and much research has been completed in this area. We hope to test some of these findings as well as to utilize techniques from past treatments.

Stay tuned for more posts—in the future, we plan to interview the artist and work with curatorial staff to ensure the preservation of the sculpture for years to come.