Karel Appel’s City People artwork is one of the most prominent pieces parts of the Erasmus University art collection. The artwork on the exterior corner of the Tinbergen building consists of a ceramic tablet filled with colourful pieces with a white background tiles. The design consists of fifteen abstract animal and human shapes, with white tiles made by Porceleyne Fles in Delft.

Protecting the building

Renovation works on the Tinbergen building are currently underway after a number of postponements since 2018. It is a listed building by the municipality and as supervisor of Monument Woudestein, Jef van den Putte is responsible to protect all the valuable parts that are in and on the building.

“For about a year and a half, every time there is a modification to the building, Erasmus University asks me if this is in line with the monumental aspects of the building”, says Van den Putte. He explains why Karel Appel’s work is so important: “If you look at the entire building, you see that everything is grey and concrete and that at one of the most important places, they made it special and they asked one of the greatest artists of that time to do it.”

A safe way

“There will be a lot of demolition work going on, which could possibly harm the art”, says Van den Putte about the renovation plans of Tinbergen. During an earlier renovation, the art was protected by using a cover over the tiles to protect them from the construction works. This time around a decision was made to take off the tiles before the renovation started. “We will do it in a safe way to protect the art.”

Experts from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the EUR art committee and two experts from art restoration are involved and huge list of investigations were conducted to find out what the current state of the artwork is. In recent times, the tiles were deteriorating quickly, so it needed a major renovation for a long time already. After a lot of research and discussion a suitable way has been found to restore and protect it.
“I don’t think anyone on the team has doubts that this is the best solution, and everybody is looking forward to the results”, says Van den Putte.

All new white tiles

The tiles will be sawn off on the back side of it and then transported to an atelier where they are able to restore them in a suitable environment. The coloured ones will be restored, and the white ones, which were already replaced before in the eighties, will be made anew. Once the renovation of the Tinbergen building is finished, the tiles will be put back in their original place. “Since it’s one of the most important art pieces of the Erasmus University, it’s essential that it will be restored, and it will be shining even more when it comes back.”


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