“There are two general things to think about when displaying art,” says Jed Bark, president of Bark Frameworks in Long Island City, New York. “First, how a piece will look — its presentation and aesthetics — and second is preserving the work, making sure that the materials and techniques used in framing it are of high quality, so that if you want to sell it someday, it hasn’t lost its value.”
Whether you’ve got works of high value, or just high sentimental value, Bark, and another art expert — Lowell Pettit, art advisor and co-director of Pettit Art Partners, a New York–based art consulting firm — have put together a master list of tips that’ll ensure your treasured pieces will look good and remain beautifully preserved for a lifetime. Without further ado:
When it comes to framing, keep it simple. “Generally speaking, a good principle to follow is that the frame in no way dominates the work. Rather, the frame needs to be secondary to the work and represent the work in its best light, so that the work itself is more easily perceived and appreciated than it was before it was framed,” says Bark. “Framing shouldn’t get in the way visually. It should be clean, clear, uncluttered, and straightforward. The frame is subordinate to the visual value of the work. That doesn’t mean it can’t be decorative, though — it just can’t overtake the art.”
Consider the corners. “In terms of frame quality, go with closed-corner frames if possible,” says Bark. “They have a more high-quality look and substantial feel.” (Less expensive frames aren’t made out of one piece, he notes, and have visible splits in their corners.)
Keep the sun away. “The effect of the sun’s reflection on a work of art, over time, can be extremely detrimental,” says Bark. “And it’s a problem aesthetically too — especially, say, with a work on paper with large areas of black or dark gray, which will become downright invisible when the sun hits it,” he notes. “That’s why anti-reflective glass is so important — it costs more, but is worth it.”
Materials matter. “Framing materials should be of high quality,” says Bark. To that end, mat boards should be acid-free (Bark makes his of 100% cotton fiber, which he prefers over purified wood pulp). “Generally speaking, the deeper the mat, the better,” says Bark. “The standard mat is 4-ply, but we use 8- or 12-ply; it separates the artwork from the glazing so it has no chance to stick to the glazing. Some depth between art and glazing is a good idea.” Also, he notes, ask for glazing that blocks UV light. And even the way the work is fixed in the mat is a critical component, especially over time. The worst way to go is the old-school method: brown tape. A better choice is archival pressure-sensitive tape, but that can harden over time and may not hold up well. The best choice (though the most expensive), notes Bark, is the old-fashioned method of Japanese paper hinges and starch paste. (He makes his own starch paste in his shop.)
Respect the centerline. “The most important facet of displaying art in the home is also one of the overlooked: the notion of a common centerline,” says Pettit. “You’ll bring a cohesive sense to a room if all art, large or small, shares a common centerline.” The centerline is the midpoint of artwork in relation to the floor; it’s typically around 55 to 60 inches high. Ideally, the center of each piece of art should be at the same centerline. “This creates a common visual thread,” notes Pettit.
Hang at eye level. “Many people make the mistake of installing work far too high,” says Lowell Pettit, art advisor and co-director of Pettit Art Partners, a New York–based art consulting firm. “Err on the side of installing it lower so that short, medium, and tall people can walk up to a work of art and appreciate it. Also, people should be able to appreciate art when seated. Something that seems right when walking through the room can seem grossly high when seated.”
Avoid treating art like decor. “If art’s well curated, it should exist on its own,” says Pettit. “Just like decor that’s done well should exist on its own. So the colors in the art don’t have to work well with the couch. They need not follow a linear conventional thread.”
Table it. “An easel on a table can be really quaint,” says Pettit. “Especially in an apartment where many works are hung on the wall clearly, it’s nice to mix it up with an easel display.
Strive for a mix. “Salon-style display — a grab-bag of big and small — has a place. But I would caution against salon-style hanging throughout a home. I’d do it in one room or on one wall only. Certain things that work great in a grouping, but others are just too loud or too colorful for that,” Bark agrees. “If you have a diverse ensemble collection of works of art, you can build a beautiful ensemble on a wall and not follow the more conventional hanging. Hang some high and some low, salon style, in an irregular pattern, with old and new side by side. But six photos all by the same photographer are best traditionally displayed in a line.”
(Photo by William Abranowicz/artandcommerce.com)