With the recent opening of his show at the Museum of Modern Art, New Yorkers finally have the chance to feast their eyes on the brightly painted sculptures and sculptural reliefs of coffee shop foods from Claes Oldenburg’s classic work “The Store.” His signature Pop whimsy seems timeless now. But one of the heart-stopping main courses from this pivotal early work — his “Floor Burger” (1962), which is being lent to MoMA from the Art Gallery of Ontario — owes much to the conservation work the AGO’s staff undertook to prepare the sculpture for its New York City trip.
According to a series of posts published on the AGO’s Art Matters blog, “Floor Burger”'s journey began in the fall of 2012 when MoMA representatives visited the AGO to determine what work would be needed to stabilize the sculpture for its moment in the spotlight. In particular, its surface paint was found to require work.
The piece was originally purchased by the AGO in early 1967 for $2,000. In fact, at the time, it was considered to be a controversial acquisition. According to the AGO's blog:
Students from [Toronto’s] Central Technical School’s art department created a nine-foot-high ketchup bottle to protest the acquisition of Oldenburg’s work. Fifty students, along with their teachers, then cheerfully paraded the bottle in front on the Gallery along Dundas Street. They then tried to donate the bottle to the AGO.
The protest elicited a comment from Oldenburg himself, who quipped that the students “should have made [the ketchup bottle] out of something soft.”
AGO conservator Sherry Phillips restored the piece during open Gallery hours, and in another post, details the work involved. Much cautious effort was made to remove the dust and debris that had settled onto the surface of the work after years of display and storage. The next step was then redistributing the stuffing inside the sculpture, which contains chunks of foam and ice cream boxes. And there was even an analysis of the sculpture’s paint and pigment chemistry.
Were any surprises uncovered? During Phillips's conservation process, she was able to separate the layers of the sculpture and uncovered the zippers in the sculpture’s fabric. “It was Claes Oldenburg’s first wife Patty who sewed all this together, and it’s really very nicely done. It’s well constructed, and the zippers are very sturdy.
Watch ARTINFO's video of the Oldenburg exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art: