art conservation

How to Light Artwork

RICHARD HULL

RICHARD HULL

Lighting plays a significant role in artwork display. It can be subtle and often the best art lighting is designed to be unnoticeable. We’re often called upon to consult on the lighting for spaces under construction, but mindful lighting can also be implemented in existing spaces.

When you hang artwork, if it seems dull or not as impactful as you hoped, additional lighting is likely needed. If artwork is hung near a natural light source, this need may only become clear at night. Lighting can help bring out textures from brush strokes in paintings and can make colors glow.

Types of Art Lighting

The style of lighting can have a big impact not only on the artwork, but on the aesthetic of the space. Here are a few popular options for light fixtures and benefits of each design.

Example of Spotlighting

Example of Spotlighting

Picture lights

The most traditional option, picture lights mount directly above a piece of artwork. This is a great option if you want to spotlight the artwork, and if you don’t intend to change the artwork layout. These permanent fixtures come in numerous sizes and finishes. Depending on the style, these help enhance a traditional or vintage aesthetic.

Track Lighting

This adjustable lighting option is the most customizable type of fixture. A great option for dynamic compositions such as gallery walls, track lighting allows you to add, remove, and rearrange spotlights in order to achieve the desired amount of lighting. If the layout of your artwork is in flux or is regularly refreshed, track lighting can provide flexibility to highlight a wide range of artwork.

Wall Washes

The most subtle options for lighting, wall wash fixtures are typically set into the ceiling, and coat a wall with light. This minimal option is versatile and makes any artwork on the wall glow, regardless of scale.

Conservation Concerns

When selecting lighting for artwork, preserving the work is an important consideration. Art can be susceptible to overly bright and overly hot fixtures. Opting for LED over halogen is a safe way to prevent heat damage. Most LEDs also emit little to no UV rays, which can fade pigments over time. It’s best to select bulbs that mimic natural light to avoid casting blue or yellow tones over the artwork.

If you’re installing light fixtures, it’s important to ensure the artwork is removed and protected during the construction. Any amount of dust can damage the surface of artwork, especially dust from plaster of drywall. These materials are abrasive and its particles can ruin the surface of plexiglas and other delicate materials.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to best approach art lighting, we recommend consulting this article from Architectural Digest.

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