archival artwork care

Storing Works of Art on Paper

When prints and drawings are not framed and displayed, it is crucial to store them properly. Whether you have a few prints to keep safe or are building large-scale storage solutions, there are a few main concerns, solutions, and best practices to keep in mind when storing works of art on paper.

We recently acquired these works of art on paper for a corporate client. Millee Tibbs,  Air/Plains series , 2013

We recently acquired these works of art on paper for a corporate client. Millee Tibbs, Air/Plains series, 2013

Keeping Paper Safe

All artwork should be handled carefully, but works of art on paper can be especially delicate. Paper can fold, curl, crumple, or easily tear when it is not matted and framed. Keeping the paper flat and secure is a primary concern in the storage of prints and drawings. This can be achieved by storing works in frames, in stacked mats, or in archival boxes. Paper used in older works is often not archival–meaning its chemical composition inevitably breaks down–and the paper becomes more brittle as it ages. Storing works properly can help mitigate damage to older pieces. Today, many works of art are specifically made on archival paper to prevent decay. 

Protecting Pigment

The medium used to create an image on the paper can also impact storage and conservation efforts. Over time, ink used in prints can off-gas onto other surfaces. If the print is stored in a frame with glass, the print can sometimes leave a faint “ghost” film where chemicals from the ink have interacted with the glass. If a print is stored in a stack with other loose prints, it can off-gas onto the other works of art. In this situation, interleaving sheets of a thin, archival, pH neutral type of paper called “glassine” can prevent damage. Glassine also prevents certain drawing materials from rubbing off of paper. Pastels and charcoal are especially prone to losing pigment.

Another concern when storing artwork is light. Exposure to sunlight can fade works of art or bleach the paper. Some types of prints are especially sensitive to this. For example, Japanese woodblock prints from the 19th century and earlier were often made with organic pigment that loses its vibrancy or fades to gray. The purple pigment used in these prints is a “fugitive” color and it is now very rare to find vibrant purples in Japanese woodblock prints. This is why we always recommend framing art in UV-filtered Plexiglas to protect work from light damage. (Check out our earlier blog post dedicated to using Plexiglas!)

Colors fading in Japanese woodblock prints via  Viewing Japanese Prints

Colors fading in Japanese woodblock prints via Viewing Japanese Prints

Environment, Pests, and Pesky Situations

Environment is also an important factor in creating the proper storage conditions for works of art on paper. Artwork should be stored in an area away from major activity, far from any food or beverages, and in a secure location.

It is important to store art in a place with consistent, controlled temperature and humidity. According to a guide to storing works on paper published by the University of Illinois, “A frequent recommendation is a stable temperature no higher than 70° F and a stable relative humidity between a minimum of 30% and a maximum of 50%.” 

Paper is sensitive to moisture and can buckle when exposed to changes in humidity. Additionally, wet environments can produce mildew or mold, which can damage art. Works of art on paper and books are susceptible to foxing, or the spread of reddish-brown spots on paper caused by fungal growth.

Bookworms aren’t just people who love to read–they are any type of insect that eats paper. Ironically, these insects are not worms, but moths, beetles, and roaches. Keeping art away from any and all vermin is very important when storing work.

Solutions

Many of these concerns can be addressed by storing pieces in an archival box, like a Solander box. Solander boxes–also called “clamshell cases”–were developed by a botanist named Daniel Solander while he was cataloging the collection of the British Museum from 1763 to 1782. These boxes now come in standard sizes and can also be custom made. They protect from light, dust, vermin, and accidents like flooding. It’s a simple solution that can protect your artwork for many years to come.

Whatever your art storage needs, we are available to consult on creating the best environment for your artwork–on and off the wall.

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Art World Logistics and Jackson Pollock's "Mural"

mural.jpg

This week, the New Yorker published a piece on Jackson Pollock’s painting Mural. Since the creation of Mural in 1943, the painting’s multi-decade journey–from a Peggy Guggenheim’s home and various museums to emergency storage and world tours–illuminates many of the services that we provide as art consultants.

Commissions and Installations

As New Yorker writer Louis Menand relays, Mural was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim of foundation and museum fame, for her Manhattan townhouse. The piece was installed by the artist and Guggenheim’s friend Marcel Duchamp–which lead to a tall tale about Duchamp slashing eight inches off the painting to make it fit in the space. The story isn’t true, but it’s a great reminder why art consultants exist: not only do we occasionally work with artists to facilitate commissions for corporate clients, but we also work with expert art handlers on installations. For each installation, we take precise measurements, use hardware that works best for the location, and protect the art and the clients’ space.

Donations

In the 1950s, Peggy Guggenheim moved to Venice and wanted to donate the painting but was faced with a conundrum. She offered the painting to Yale, but the institution passed on the donation. The painting ended up in Iowa City, eventually finding its way into the University of Iowa art museum. As art consultants, we can help facilitate the donation of art from corporate collections when the pieces are no longer a good fit for the company. Our services include finding the right home for a piece and managing the logistics of transferring ownership.

Protection and Storage

Pollock’s Mural found a great home at the University of Iowa, but decades later disaster struck. In 2008, the Iowa River flooded the campus, causing $750 million dollars in damage. The school narrowly avoided losing their art collection to the flood. According to the New York Times, “a herculean effort in the preceding days had gotten thousands of pieces, including the museum’s well-regarded collection of African art and a Jackson Pollock piece, to safety.” A component of  our work is to ensure the safety of artwork. We can work with corporate clients to properly store and protect collections from calamities like water damage, mold, pests, or theft. Storage solutions can be on-site in a corporate space or off-site through a trusted vendor.

Transportation

Ground was just broken on the new University of Iowa art museum this past June, but Mural has not been hidden from the public for the past decade. The Pollock masterpiece has been on a world tour, traveling from museum to museum while its home institution recovers. A major part of our work involves arranging the transportation of artwork. For pieces acquired in Chicago, we work with a local network of art professionals to facilitate transportation. When we acquire pieces for corporate clients from galleries in places like New York or Los Angeles, we must arrange transportation for pieces across the country. We are also experienced in facilitating the safe and timely transit of art at a global scale, navigating customs, taxes, crating, and even transAtlantic transportation.

Exhibitions

In July, Pollock’s Mural arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The piece has been in exhibitions around the world for the past ten years and, as the New Yorker notes, each museum decides how to exhibit the piece in relation to their collection. Curating and managing special exhibtions is another on of services as an art consulting firm. We work with clients to create seasonal exhibitions that showcase local artists for their employees and visitors, allowing the client to highlight their support for contemporary art or their interest in a particular medium, like photography or abstract painting. Each exhibition we curate is unique and tailored to our client and their space.

Mural is an excellent example of the interesting and varied life of a single artwork. Every work of art has a story and every owner of a piece contributes to that story. Our job is to help clients acquire new pieces or manage collections–and to help art and companies tell stories together.

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Using Plexiglass for Archival Artwork Care

PLEXIGLASS VITRINE & LABEL COVERS

PLEXIGLASS VITRINE & LABEL COVERS

In art consulting, one of the most common materials we work with is plexiglass, a common type of acrylic. This transparent thermoplastic has many applications and uses, and requires specific care. When maintained correctly, plexiglass can be a long-lasting material that protects artwork from the elements.

Acrylic in Framing

When framing works on paper, plexiglass is used to protect the surface of the art. Sometimes referred to as "glazing", this plexi is available in many varieties and can be selected based on which characteristics will best fit the artwork’s needs. A common archival consideration with framing artwork is using glazing that blocks UV rays. UV rays from the sun (or even from older lighting fixtures) can damage and fade pigments in artwork, which can lower the aesthetic and financial value of a piece.

If a work on paper has an especially intricate surface texture, another option is to select a non-glare plexi. This is available with UV protection as well, and has a matte finish that makes it easier to see the details clearly.

Vitrines

Three-dimensional artwork can benefit from acrylic’s archival protection as well. Sculptures that stand on pedestals can have custom plexi boxes, also known as vitrines, built to protect them from the elements while still allowing the work to be viewed clearly from 360 degrees. Other artifacts or wall-mounted sculpture can be encased in plexi shadow boxes that mount inside of frames, which protect works displayed on a wall.

Label Covers

An important part of any artwork collection is signage that adds context to the art. We fabricate labels out of vellum, custom paper, or mylar to indicate information about artists and their work. We use thin, custom-cut acrylic is protect these labels because it is easy to read, clean, and reuse. The labels can have holes drilled to accommodate installation hardware, or fit inside aluminum sleeves depending on a collector’s design preference.

Advantages of Acrylic

We use plexiglass when designing custom frames and displays for artwork because it provides customizable archival protection. Acrylic doesn’t interact with chemicals on the surface of artwork, and when correctly implemented the artwork won’t leave a stain on it. Acrylic glazing is durable and doesn’t come with the risk of shattering like glass. To ensure long-term protection, we take certain precautions including never using products designed for glass, like Windex. We use cleaning materials designed for plexi, sprayed onto archival paper to apply it keeps the acrylic clear and minimizes scratches. Although plexiglass is easier to scratch than glass, these can be buffed out by using specific care products.

Acrylic has broad applications in protecting artwork, artifacts, and historical documents. It’s one of the easiest archival materials to maintain when cleaned and treated correctly, and is a minimal investment that can showcase items in a collection while shielding artwork from being directly touched, dust, and UV rays.

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