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Conservation Notes: Restoring Floor Burger, inside and out

November 12th, 2012

AGO conservator Sherry Phillips works painstakingly to consolidate the flaking paint layers on one part of Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Burger.

We’ve told you in recent Art Matters posts why we are undertaking conservation work on Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Burger (1962), as well as the intriguing story of what happened when the sculpture arrived at the Gallery in 1967.

Now that the conservation work is well underway, we wanted to let you know what steps are being taken to restore the work before it heads to the MoMA in spring 2013. AGO conservator Sherry Phillips is leading the project, and she gave us a glimpse into what discoveries and challenges she’s encountered since the conservation work began.

Testing different solvents for efficacy.


Phillips and her team had to examine Floor Burger carefully before they decided what work was required. Then there was an overall light dusting to remove dust and debris that had settled on the surface over many years of display and storage. This work was done very cautiously because the loose paint is susceptible to loss with even the lightest touch of a brush. She has also been testing to see which solution would work best to clean the sculpture’s surface. In the photo at left, you can see the markers Phillips is using to remind herself which spot was treated with which solution. Cleaning will be the final step in the restoration process, if time allows.

Phillips is consolidating the paint layers, using adhesive to bind the paint to the canvas. It’s an incredibly labour-intensive process, requiring constant attention and delicate handling of the materials. Though Phillips is getting help from Assistant Painting Conservator Bo Shin, she is expecting many more weeks of work to stabilize the surface of Floor Burger‘s various parts; only the top layer, the “pickle,” will not need work, aside from minor surface cleaning.

The “stuffing” found inside one of Floor Burger‘s layers: chunks of foam and ice cream boxes.

The next step will be redistributing the stuffing inside all parts of the sculpture. The stuffing comprises small chunks of foam, as well as ice cream boxes that emerged from inside Floor Burger as if from a time capsule. Both materials have fared well over time, but the individual pieces have shifted, leaving the sculpture with an uneven appearance. That’s to be expected, Phillips says, because the components have had 50 years of handling and travel to move around. Using archival images of the object for comparison, and an AGO curator’s second opinion, she will develop a tool to use inside the components to gently push and pull the stuffing to create a better defined “burger” shape. Before she can do that, the surface must be stable, and that is why the careful consolidation of the paint layers is needed: to make them as stable as possible Phillips “goes inside” the sculpture. Not all of her, of course, she jokes.

“Everything that’s happened is to be expected with an object like this, made of these materials.” Asked if there have been any surprises, Phillips points to zippers in the sculpture’s fabric; because this is the first time Floor Burger‘s layers have been separated at the AGO, no one really knew they were there, though they were anticipated.

“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.” Phillips says this will make it easier for her to do her work inside the sculpture. “It is lovely to see how well-made this work is.”

Visitors can observe Sherry at work in the Irena Moore Gallery (2nd level); the best times to see Conservation work in action are Tuesday to Friday, 10:30 am–noon and 1:30–4 pm.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


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