Background

In 1968, art collectors Martin and Mia Visser asked Christo (1935-2020) to create a barrel object for their garden in Bergeijk. Christo made a large stack of uncoloured, used oil barrels, one of his last works in which the barrels are stacked in columns.

The work was donated to the Kröller-Müller Museum in 1977. Since then it has stood in the museum’s sculpture garden, in a location chosen by the artist himself. It is Christo’s only permanent outdoor ‘barrel work’ that is open to the public.

The donation was made on the condition that the work would receive conservation treatment. In close collaboration with Christo, the original barrels were replaced by new ones, which were given a protective, coloured coating. The colours and the types of barrels were selected by Christo.

Over the years, the surface of the barrels has suffered greatly from the elements. Despite regular maintenance and cleaning, the condition of the coating continued to deteriorate and the steel barrels were damaged by corrosion. Therefore, in 1990 a number of the barrels were replaced again and new layers of paint were applied.

Current condition

It is now more than thirty years later and the condition of the sculpture necessitates a more fundamental conservation. In terms of both materials and aesthetics, the work is in poor condition. Due of its closed construction, it has thus far been impossible to fully determine the condition of the work. Preliminary investigations have revealed that both the barrels and the pedestal are in poor condition. There are structural issues, damage to the paint and coating, and severe corrosion of the barrels is visible. The pedestal has subsided due to structural and drainage problems, making it no longer a stable base for the work.

File research

To ascertain the production process, the history and the choice of colours and materials of the work, file research was conducted in 2013-2014.

The conservation after the work was donated in 1977 involved using new barrels as well as repainting barrels. So Christo apparently has no objection to that. The colour composition of the barrels and also their form and dimensions are, however, important.

The work after conservation in 1977 is the point of departure for the new treatment. The barrels and paint layers should not look used and rusty because they were new in that year.

Further research

In order to further investigate the interior of the work, the stack of barrels needs to be dismantled. Material-technical research will determine the possibilities for the restoration of the paint layers. Analyses of paint samples are expected to provide information on the composition of the (original) paint. Research is also still needed to make decisions regarding new, durable materials and protective coatings. Interviews will also take place with people involved in the construction and earlier conservation of the work.

The conservation approach will be decided based on the results of these investigations. The most positive outcome of the preliminary investigations would be that the original materials from the 1977 version can be preserved, possibly through the application of protective coatings.

Treatment

Pedestal
The pedestal will be entirely rebuilt, including the foundation. Weather-resistant materials that will last at least 15 years will be used in the construction. Replacing and deepening the foundation will solve the drainage problems and ensure the stability of the pedestal.

Barrels

The damage to the paint layers, such as scratches and paint loss, are potential areas for new corrosion and, together with the flaking surface layers of mainly the orange barrels, they disrupt the colour pattern. These barrels will probably need to be repainted. It is important here to find the correct colour and sheen to remain in harmony with the other barrels.

The condition of the paint layers on the lower, large barrels seems fairly stable. It is likely that the corrosion that has occurred can be treated by applying fillings where necessary and local retouching. Most of the damage to the paint layers of the smaller barrels can also be treated locally. This will presumably allow much of the original paint layer to be preserved. Finally, new oil barrels will have to be used for sections that are beyond repair.

Depending on the results of the materials analysis and the final decisions taken, the conservation is expected to take eight to twelve months.

Phasing

Preliminary

Establish conservation plan based on archive data and condition analysis.

Phase 1 (three months)

  • Planning, registration and documentation
  • Dismantling, investigation of interior condition
  • Determine conservation strategy

 

Phase 2 (four months)

  • Removal of old pedestal
  • Contact with specialized companies
  • Research into suitable materials etc.
  • Possible procurement of new barrels
  • Research into suitability of fasteners

 

Phase 3 (three months)

  • Construction of new pedestal
  • Filling / reconstruction
  • Corrosion protection and retouching, the latter to be carried out by an external contractor
  • Painting the new barrels
  • Assembly 

 

Budgeting

Reconstruction of foundation and pedestal    
     
Demolition and removal of old foundation and pedestal       1,000
Laying foundation 1,000
Material costs      2,000
Cost of hiring external conservator, 300 hrs at €65 p/h   20,000
     
Repair of barrel pyramid    
     
Disassembly €    2,000
Transport €  2,000
Cleaning     €   7,000
Structural corrosion protection €  5,000
Corrosion protection and retouching      €  14,000
Temporary protection/covering €  3,000
Assembly €  3,000
Planning, registration and documentation   €  2,000
Acquisition of new barrels/unforeseen expenses €  7,000
    --------+
Total  €  69,000