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.)