art preservation

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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Art Conservation

National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London

While we absolutely hate to see it, damaged artwork it is a reality that we encounter from time to time. Whether it is a torn painting, a broken frame, or a dusty dirty textile, artwork can be greatly susceptible to damage if not properly protected, stored or shipped (check out our recommendations for treating your objects with care here). Luckily, we have relationships with top level art conservators that help our clients navigate these situations. 

What is the purpose of art conservation?

Art and object conservation refers to the scientific practice and profession of preserving artwork and artifacts from deterioration and repairing damage that has occurred. The primary aim of art conservation is to stabilize the work from further damage while retaining the maximum amount of original material, and secondary is to improve the appearance of the work of art. Art conservators use precise techniques to clean, repair, reassemble and at times restore works of art that have been damaged from time, environment stresses or accidents. Conservators also employ techniques for preventative conservation and scientific technology such as x-ray imaging to study artwork. 

What is the difference between conservation, restoration and preservation? 

The Art Conservator's Alliance explains these terms in detail:

"Art conservation includes principles and practices of technical examination, documentation, and treatment for objects of material culture. The intention of art conservation is to improve the condition of an artifact by stabilizing physical condition problems and addressing surface disfigurement arising from deterioration and/or damage. In doing so, the art conservator strives to retain as much original material as possible and to employ the best quality materials and the most carefully considered methods available."

"At times a conservation treatment also requires restoration, which is defined as the preparation and incorporation of replacement parts and surface finishes (i.e. 'compensation for losses') to allow proper visual interpretation of an art object and to recapture an acceptable esthetic appearance..."

"Another often-used term is preservation, which encompasses all of the varied activities involved in preventing damage and reducing the rate of deterioration for art objects, collections, and structures."

http://www.artconservatorsalliance.com/what_is.html

Want to learn more?

Here is a great link to a glossary of conservation terms compiled by the Smithsonian Institute:  https://www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/painting_glossary.html

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