Chapter 11 - The Display and Care of Your Collection
Congratulations! You've gotten your feet wet and purchased a real piece of fine art. It cost a significant amount of your hard earned money. To display and protect the art it has to be framed. There's a frame shop in the mall close to your house. Why not go there? It'll be convenient.
Wait. It's not quite that simple (of course).
Wait. It's not quite that simple (of course).
Wait. It's not quite that simple (of course).
Just as you have taken great care in the choosing of your art, you should also take great care in choosing your framer. Perhaps someday you'd like to leave the art to your children or maybe you hope to sell it. It any case, it must be preserved in pristine condition if it is to maintain or increase in value. Besides, as the art's custodian, you owe it to the art to take good care of it.
Anyone can open a frame shop and display frame samples, perhaps even present you with some good ideas. What your first concern should be, however, is that the framer knows how to correctly handle the work, especially works on paper.
A word of caution—just because a frame shop exists in a sophisticated urban area is no guarantee the framer knows how to properly frame art. I had a friend who had a beautiful antique engraving destroyed by a "big city" framer who glued it to the backing. Works on paper should always be held in place with linen hinges and backed by acid-free paper or board. Taped or glued corners can irreparably damage the art. And it's not unheard of for an inexperienced framer to trim the edges of a piece of art to fit it into a particular frame. Art should never be trimmed, ever!
Once you have determined that a framer employs "archival" framing methods and standards then consider the framer's aesthetics. Does the framer have an eye for what style and type of frame will enhance the piece? A good framer is an artist in his or her own way—it takes a special talent to excel at the craft.
Speaking of artists, it has been my experience that artists are not necessarily adept when it comes to framing their own art. Most successful artists will seek out the services of an experienced framer to appropriately frame their work and thus present it in the best possible light.
A good way to find the right framer for you is to take note of frames when you are browsing in the galleries. When you see framing that you feel enhances the work and suits your personal style, you may ask gallery staff who does their framing for them.
Frame shops usually have art on display to give you an idea of their capabilities. Referrals are best, however. Other collectors, artists, dealers, and museum personnel can also recommend qualified framers to you. It's a good idea to stay away from interior decorators when seeking framing advice. There's a good chance they're more interested in the frame as decoration, and thus, overdo it.
Art galleries usually display art already framed or offer framing services on works represented by their gallery. If you live in an area devoid of quality framers you just might let the gallery handle framing for you if you like what they have to offer. You may pay more than if you'd had it done yourself but the gallery is providing you with convenience and expertise. The downside is, shipping a framed vs. unframed piece will cost you more.
Don't be afraid to ask the potential framer questions. You might ask, do you do archival framing? Use the material in this section to help you devise specific questions to determine how knowledgeable the framer is. A good framer will do the following when framing works on paper:
1. Use only acid-free paper or board for mounting and matting because acid produces "foxing" or spots on works on paper over time;
2. Use linen hinges to hold down edges because Scotch tape or other commercial tape contain acid that will seep into the picture;
3. Completely seal the work in its frame because changes in humidity and temperature are damaging to works on paper;
4. Use Plexiglas instead of glass to help screen out harmful ultraviolet light because works on paper are subject to fading; also, "plex" is not as fragile as glass, and thus better for shipping; it is also lighter in weight making it easier to hang the finished piece;
5. Will not use Plexiglas for pastels or charcoal drawings because Plexiglas generates static electricity which can lift the pastel or charcoal particles off the paper;
6. Use "spacers" between the glass and the art so the surface of the art and glass do not touch.
7. Understand this is an important decision for you and will be helpful, patient, and give you plenty of time to make up your mind.
The oil in the oil painting medium preserves the color and so oils on canvas do not usually require a glass or Plexiglas covering. Fragile Old Master works such as the Mona Lisa are preserved under glass, mostly to protect them from demented people who deface paintings or to keep viewers who can't resist from touching the surface of the canvas.
All this attention to the preservation of your art is not meant to minimize the importance of the way the frame looks. The right frame can make or break a work of art. If you have already toured art galleries, you've probably seen art on the walls that screams, "Hey, look at my frame!" The frame is so overpowering you barely notice the art. The purpose of this "over framing" is to declare that the art is important and therefore, the price justified. The frame's function is to provide a "framework" for the art, not to be noticed for its own sake.
What the frame style should do is simply show the art to its best advantage. The framing should be based on the nature of the art. A heavily carved baroque frame would overpower a delicate watercolor, but just might work on a strongly colored oil painting.
While there are no hard and fast rules, here are a few suggestions:
1. You might consider using a "liner" to help set off an oil painting or work on paper. Liners can be flat or slightly curved (called a "scoop"). These liners are covered in fabrics such as linen or silk and separate the painting from the frame molding. White, off-white or ivory work best; colors tend to be overpowering and distracting.
2. A thin strip of molding (about 1/4" wide) between the liner and the painting, or frame and the painting, is called a "fillet" and can add a subtle sparkle to the work. Fillets come in many colors but gold is the most effective.
3. The width of the mat should not be the same as the width of the frame itself. Wide mats look good with narrower frames and narrower mats look better with wider moldings.
4. The width of the molding you will need depends a lot on the size of the piece. You may like the look of a very narrow molding with your piece, but the narrow frame may be too weak to support it.
5. Gold is often called "the great organizer" and goes with almost everything.
Be prepared for sticker shock—framing is an expensive proposition. However, this is no time to scrimp on quality. If you can't afford quality framing, it might be a good idea to wait until you can. A cheap (not to be confused with simple) frame on a work of fine art (we're not talking posters here) will, well . . . still look cheap.
When choosing a frame listen to the advice of a quality framer and follow your own taste—remember, you are a team. Have confidence in your eye; it was you who chose the work of art in the first place. And, if you've found a good framer, stick with him or her. Good framers, like good car mechanics, are worth their weight in gold.
Hanging Your Art
I have a friend who is very short, under five feet in fact, and all the art in her home is hung very low, just about my chest height. While it's uncomfortable for me to look at (hunched over, head lowered), it's at her eye level and she likes it that way. I can understand. It's her home and she's had a lifetime of looking up at things.
Then there's art that's hung too high. A Thai restaurant in our town has some delightful art from Thailand on its walls. The problem is, the art is hung so high, near the ceiling in fact, that you can't take in the details. For most people the work is too fine and intricate to be viewed at such an angle and distance, unless they are in the NBA.
In both of these situations, the art did not seem to be hung to the best advantage and interfered with my viewing pleasure. When hanging art in your home, ask yourself, who do I want to enjoy this work? Is it for me only or do I want others to enjoy it too? What is your ceiling height? What is the scale of the furniture in the room?
The general rule of thumb is to hang your art at eye level. Of course, since people vary in height, this leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
When you hang art, it's best to have at least two pairs of hands and eyes available to accomplish the task, one person to hold the art and move it around, one to see what wall placement works best. Then trade off. Share opinions. Always mark your final decision with a pencil. The old adage, "measure twice, cut once" applies here with a slight variation, "measure twice, nail once." You don't want to end up with a lot of unwanted holes in your walls.
If you would like to do a wall grouping using several pieces you can avoid a cluttered look by using similar frames and the same matting on all the pieces. Also, do a layout on the floor with the art before you attempt to hang it. Block out the allotted wall space with easy to remove blue painter's tape and work within those same perimeters on your floor layout.
When you have artwork professionally framed, the framer will usually provide you with the hanging hardware. They may also indicate on the hanging wire at what distance apart you should place the hardware. If the piece is large or heavy, two separate hangers are a good idea to distribute the weight.
If you need to purchase the hardware, there are hooks and nails specially designed for hanging art. On the package it will indicate the weight tolerances of the hardware. Always use this special hardware, easily found in home improvement stores and frame shops, to assure your art is secure on the wall and to prevent damage to your walls.
Framed art can also be effectively displayed on decorative easels. These can be large floor models or small easels designed for table surfaces. It is also popular these days to lean art against the wall so it can be easily moved around.
If you purchase art from a local gallery, they may even deliver and hang the art for you as part of their service.
One more thing—another of those darn cautionary notes—be especially careful when hanging works on paper. Even if they are framed in Plexiglas they are still subject to fading. Do not hang in direct sunlight and do not hang in a steamy bathroom. It's okay for inexpensive decorative prints (they can be replaced), but not valuable works on paper. Moisture, as well as sunlight, is their enemy.
Rotating Your Collection
Let's say that over time you have acquired a sizeable art collection and you are running out of display or wall space. You love your art, but your surroundings are becoming all too cluttered. You realize the importance of retaining negative space, a place for the eye to rest, so that the art can be fully enjoyed. You don't wish to sell or give any of the art away. What do you do? Move?
One of the best solutions is to rotate your collection. That means, you either display it in another room, put it away completely for a while, or both. Storing art, if done properly, is not a bad thing. In fact, when it's been out of sight for a while and reappears as part of your life again, it's like seeing an old friend. This may sound odd—but I've noticed this in galleries when we'd put art away and then bring it back out later—the art had regained some lost energy, appearing rested and fresh like it had been on vacation.
When we talk about storing art this does not mean in a storage locker. No, no, no. Do not let it leave your premises. It should reside in a safe, dry space in your abode where you can keep an eye on it. Framed works can be stored vertically, each piece separated by large pieces of cardboard or carpet so the frames do not bang together and get dented, chipped or scratched. In addition, wrapping framed art in old sheets while it's being stored will protect it from dust, dirt, and critters.
A word about loaning out your art—do so at your own risk. It could get lost, stolen or damaged. Even museums, with all their expertise, have been known to misplace or inadvertently damage art.
Also, with unframed works on paper or oils on canvas that have been removed from their stretcher bars, do not leave them rolled up in tubes. A good idea is to store them horizontally in what are known as "flat files." These stacked, shallow drawers made of wood or metal are designed for the storage of unframed art and are available at large art supply stores and catalogs such as Daniel Smith.
Just a few words here. If you have a print that has stains or small tears around its borders you can take it to fine paper conservators for restoration. They can eliminate most stains and make small tears invisible.
One more thing— if you are considering the purchase of an expensive old oil painting, take it to a restorer before you commit to the sale. He or she will use a "black light" to see into the pigment and determine how much if any restoration work has been done. It's not unusual for older works to have some restoration in their history. However, if the piece has been coated with too much shellac by incompetent restorers, the original work can often be lost. This can take a significant toll on the painting's value.
Cleaning and Maintenance
We're almost finished. There are just a few housekeeping tips you should be aware of. One is, never use Windex on Plexiglas. Don't get me wrong, Windex is a fine product, but it's not meant for "plex." Repeated use can cause the surface to pit. There are special polishes formulated for use on plex but I find a light dusting with a soft cloth (never paper towels) or feather duster works well. To remove finger prints or smudges, a soft cloth dampened with a little rubbing alcohol accomplishes the task just fine.
The beauty of oil paintings is that the surface is washable. Here in Hawaii where I live we have these friendly little critters called geckos that live indoors as well as out. They are a fact of life. They're kind of fun to have around but they do leave little "calling cards" here and there. Since geckos can run up a wall as well as across it, it isn't unusual to find droppings on the surface of your art.
I clean the paintings in my collection by using a soft cloth moistened with a little (mild) soapy water. If you are careful not to stretch or poke the canvas and use a light touch, no worries.
This does not mean you should make a habit of touching the surface of your oil paintings. It's not beneficial to add your skin oils to the canvas. I've heard too that it can take up to twenty years for an oil painting to dry completely after it's been painted. Sculptures you can touch, and are meant to be touched. Oils are not.