Baseboard Series (1967) by Dutch artist Ger van Elk is a floor sculpture made of painted rigid polyurethane foam. Its organic, angular form comprises two dissimilar parts.
The lower section of Baseboard Series is covered with a layer of paper, while the upper part is painted with different layers of alkyd paint forming a thick, closed skin. The top layer of paint consists of two colors, a cool acidic yellow and a mid-toned gray, covered by a thick, irregular layer of polyurethane varnish. At the end of 2007, the artwork was in such poor condition that it could no longer be exhibited. One of its corners had broken off, dents and holes had appeared in the polyurethane foam and the layers of paint were blistering and showed cracks. The heavy varnish layer had also become extremely discolored with age; the original cool yellow and gray tones were almost obscured by an uneven, semi-transparent layer of brown. Conservators met with the artist to discuss how the aging varnish was affecting the visual integrity of the work.
RESEARCH AND TESTS
Researchers at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) analyzed a number of samples of the rigid foam, paint layers and varnishes, which enabled them to make a precise identification of the materials used in the artwork.
A variety of treatment methods were then tested on dummies in the restoration studio. Conservators tried out a number of adhesives and developed an innovative method for filling in the rigid polyurethane foam. After consolidating the paint layers and filling the holes, the search for a technical means to remove the discolored varnish began. It was a difficult task because dissolving the layer of varnish was likely to damage the paint underneath as well, but the conservators eventually found a suitable method.
Finally Baseboard Series has been retouched. After treatment the work’s condition is stable, the original colors have been restored and the work looks pristine. It is now fit for public display once more.