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week 12    by Andries Loots

What is the best way to display your art ?

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Most people  tend to display their latest acquisition in the brightest place in the house so that all their friends can admire it or shine the brightest light on it to impress those unexpected night visitors,  but by doing so they are causing a lot of harm.

Proper lighting and the correct positioning of a work of art is very important. Ultra violet light can damage a painting beyond repair.

Correct lighting will do justice to the work.  The older traditional picture frame lights show off the top part of the painting while leaving the rest in darkness. Fluorescent lights absorb some colors of the spectrum and thus doesn't allow one to perceive the full range of colours. Traditional bulbs and lights enhance warm colours like red,  orange and yellow but  flattens  blue and green colours.

New age low-voltage bulbs use less energy,  produce beams of light that render all colours well and come close to duplicating daylight,  without causing any heat damage.   

This new range of bulbs can be installed in three basic ways:

Recessed lights which are flush with the ceiling -

Picture lights hanging directly on the frame or on the wall just above the painting -

Track lights are movable fixtures that can be moved on tracks affixed either to the wall or the ceiling.

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Although lighting is a specialized field, your personal preference is an important consideration. Since different artists worked in different light conditions it will be unfair to put new age lights onto a work that was painted by candlelight as this might enhance the wrong colours.

The purists still believe in daylight as the best light to see and appreciate art by. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles went as far as to have their Galleries lit up by automated skylights that adjust to passing clouds. More and more people also use screens for their windows to filter out harmful rays of the sun and special glass on their paintings which blocks out UV Rays. 

Tips on the correct way of lighting up art by Steven Hefferan:
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" To really do justice to a three- dimensional object,  you'll require three adjustable lights positioned on the ceiling. To accent a feature of the sculpture,   put a highlight  ( spot bulb ) in front of it to one side. On the other side place a fill light,  which has a wider beam than the spot ( flood bulb ),  this is to wash the piece with soft light. The third fixture is a backlight ( flood bulb ) located above  and slightly behind the object.

Here it is all in the angle of the illumination. You'll minimize glare if light hits the art at a 30 degree angle.  For a piece with a wider frame allow 5 degrees to avoid casting of a shadow off the frame.
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Fragile Art and light damage

The most sensitive pieces tend to be works on paper such as pastels and watercolors. These must be kept away from direct sunlight at all times as the ultra violet and infrared rays will fade and damage the art. Use Ultraviolet filters for some halogen and all fluorescent lighting,  or choose reflector bulbs designed to minimize ultraviolet and infrared rays.
It is very important to remember that heat will crack oil paintings and the best test that one can do is to hold your hand in front of the light that shines onto the painting. If you feel heat,  you know it could damage your painting. Reflector bulbs with a lower wattage are advised for this. Fiber-optic lighting can also be utilized for this purpose as it gives off no heat. " *

( House & Garden Special Issue Decorating and Art,   March 1999, p.59. )