We’ve taken a short break from writing about Claes Oldenburg’s iconic Floor Cake sculpture—currently undergoing conservation treatment here at MoMA—to prepare a lecture for last week’s annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Conservators, educators, and scientists gather each year to discuss new types of treatments for works of art and to examine the effects of past treatment. Our presentation focused on the history of Floor Cake and its condition (please see our previous posts), as we have been working to conserve this unique and popular work for the past several months.
Posts by Margo Delidow
In our previous posts we discussed the materials and methods used by Claes Oldenburg to create Floor Cake, the artist’s unique and popular piece of painted cake currently undergoing conservation treatment here at MoMA. This week, we investigate the properties of Floor Cake’s surface dirt, to help us prepare an optimal cleaning solution to remove dirt and grime from the sculpture’s painted surface.
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:
In last week’s post, we discussed how Claes Oldenburg made his oversized soft sculpture Floor Cake, and we considered some of its current condition issues. This week we are conducting a more in-depth examination of the materials Oldenburg used to create the work. Material analysis will assist us in the development of a plan to treat the sculpture. Our treatment decisions may change as our understanding of Floor Cake increases through continued examination of both the object and its place in art history.
When developing a treatment plan for a work of art, it is essential to understand as much as possible about the materials the artist used. At MoMA, we keep extensive files on the artists and objects in our collection—from curatorial files containing past articles, acquisition information, and correspondence, to Conservation Department records documenting previous treatments, condition history, and technical analysis, among other materials—so that’s where we usually start. After reviewing all those sources, we undertook a thorough examination of the object. We began by photographing Floor Cake using a variety of lighting techniques to attempt to tease out as much information as possible. Under normal light conditions we observed that the chocolate drop appeared significantly more saturated than the rest of the cake. The drop has that gloss and sheen we associate with an oil-based paint. We suspected that Oldenburg was using acrylic paint as well as an oil-based paint he may have had left over from The Store. (For The Store, as we discussed in our first post, he used an alkyd resin paint or an ester modified with drying oils.)
Last Monday, we talked about the history of Claes Oldenburg’s iconic Floor Cake sculpture, which is currently in MoMA’s Conservation Department for study and treatment. In this post we’ll discuss how the sculpture was made and how Floor Cake’s condition has resulted from natural aging combined with a heavy exhibition schedule.
For his seminal 1962 triptych Floor Cake, Floor Burger, and Floor Cone, Oldenburg enlisted the help of his first wife, Patti Mucha, who used a portable Singer sewing machine and heavyweight canvas to sew the covers of these large objects. Oldenburg then coated the objects’ surfaces with paint. These works might be described as sewn object-paintings. Floor Cake, for example, consists of five layers of sewn-and-painted canvas, with two chocolate-colored layers alternating with three thinner beige layers, topped by yellow-ocher drops of decorative “icing.”
This is the first post by the Conservation Department at MoMA. We plan to give you a behind-the-scenes look at one of our current projects. In this project, Sculpture and Painting Conservation collaborate on an investigation into one of MoMA’s iconic Pop sculptures.
Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake (1962) entered into the Painting and Sculpture Department at MoMA in 1975. Measuring five by nine feet, this popular piece of painted cake has been heavily exhibited in the Museum and across the United States, and has made three transatlantic voyages. The forty-seven-year old sculpture is now in the Conservation Department lab for study and treatment.
If you are interested in reproducing images from The Museum of Modern Art web site, please visit the Image Permissions page (www.moma.org/permissions). For additional information about using content from MoMA.org, please visit About this Site (www.moma.org/site).
© Copyright 2016 The Museum of Modern Art