Behind the scenes: Conservation of the Schwarzer Elefant by Carsten Höller

IMG 3359 Black Elephant Carsten Holler

A museum is more than just exhibitions. Welcome for a sneak peek behind the scenes.

While artworks of the collection are not being displayed in an exhibition, the time is used to take care of the works in the conservation department. Right now, the artwork “Schwarzer Elefant”, made in 1999 by the artist Carsten Höller is receiving some tender loving care.

“Schwarzer Elefant” is a black, life-sized baby elephant that is laying on the floor. From 01.04. until 10.09.2023 the work was displayed in the exhibition Healing the Museum.

The core structure of the elephant consists of a yellow rigid polyurethane foam which is covered by a layer of black silicone rubber. Some remarkable things are the tail, which is made of real elephant hair and the toenails, made of real elephant nails. For the eyes Höller used blue glass eyes.

Over time and especially during the exhibition, the surface of the elephant became dusty. Because of the natural tackiness of the rubber, the dust particles stick easily to the surface. It was decided that a thorough cleaning of the surface was necessary. In the last weeks, the conservators of S.M.A.K. could concentrate on carrying out this time consuming treatment.

The cleaning was necessary due to aesthetic reasons: because of this soiling, the elephant looked grey and dull. Just as importantly, dust and soiling can accelerate the aging of the material the artwork is made of, in this case the silicone rubber. A layer of dust can also act as a growth medium for mould. By cleaning, removing and protecting the work from dust, the conservators can prolong the lifespan of artworks tremendously.

The elephant was cleaned, using a cloth and soft brushes while vacuuming the dust. After the treatment there is a big improvement in the perception of the artwork. The elephant’s “skin” appears much darker.

As soon as the treatment is fully completed, the elephant will go back into the museum’s storage in a dust-free crate until it is displayed in its next exhibition.

Schwarzer Elefant, Carsten Höller, 1999

7.Feb.24 Category: Collection
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