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Friday, May 31 • 2:00pm - 2:20pm
(Contemporary Art Session 2) Conservation Treatment of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sculpture Monument to the Last Horse, 1991 at The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas

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This paper presents the recently developed conservation method for Monument to the Last Horse, a large scale outdoor sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen from 1991.

The treatment is the first known and documented example of treating an outdoor sculpture comprised of the unusual materials of aluminum, polyurethane foam – and resin, primer and paint, materials not commonly used in combination for outdoor sculpture.

The sculpture materials, chosen because they mimicked the mud from the surrounding landscape adhering to a horseshoe, were exposed to the harsh climate of the Marfa desert environment for over 20 years.

The combined materials presented unprecedented challenges for conservation.

A two year research phase, including material testing, close collaboration with the fabricators of the art work and the artists as well as consultations with other conservators and companies resulted in a conservation concept and treatment plan, which was approved by Claes Oldenburg early in 2011.

The paper will discuss the idea of the sculpture, the fabrication, the conservation history and condition of the sculpture over the years, the research approach, tests and test results, which finally culminated in the treatment plan.

The conservation treatment required the removal of the original paint layer, which had been on the sculpture for 21 years, despite its original life expectancy of only five to eight years.

The original paint layer not only depicted the earthy brown of the “mud” stuck to the horseshoe and gave the sculpture a finished appearance but it, originally, also protected the PUR foam and PUR resin from UV radiation, wind and rain. In the course of its 21 year life span the paint layer had however lost its gloss, become water soluble, was abraded regularly by windborne sand particles, and lost adhesion to the primer layer underneath it.

The original paint layer was also heavily marked by earlier repairs and had to be removed to treat damages in the original PUR resin and PUR foam layers, caused by its failure over time, and to establish a solid foundation for applying a new paint layer.

The paper further describes and discusses the removal of the paint layer, the treatment of cracks and voids in the polyurethane foam as well as in the polyurethane resin and the application of new primer- and paint layers.

Thanks to the close collaboration with the artists and the fabricator, the conservation treatment to Monument to the Last Horse was successful. Conservation treatment not only substantially stabilized the sculpture, but restored the appearance the artists had envisioned for it.


Bettina Landgrebe

Director of Conservation, Chinati Foundation

Friday May 31, 2013 2:00pm - 2:20pm EDT
JW Marriott White River Ballroom F 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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