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Modern Art Care

Caring for your Modern Art Paintings

When you have a piece of modern art which you really value and appreciate, it makes sense to look after and care for your art work. This short article from Red Rag Gallery is intended to provide a few guidelines for looking after modern art.

There is an inevitability that over the years modern art works will be affected by aging if they are not carefully protected. For today's art collectors and purchasers of modern art this should not be a problem but if you want future generations to appreciate your choice in art, then consider advice from Red Rag Bath Art Gallery for the care of modern painting

Where to hang paintings - the general environment

Modern paintings and art frames are made from a variety of art materials. These include: varnish, paint, glue, canvas, wood, metal, gilding and plaster.

Most art materials in modern paintings will react and are affected by differences in humidity and temperature. In extreme circumstances paintings and frames start expanding and contracting. In this situation modern paintings can be become stressed and will deteriorate. Symptoms to look for in paintings with this condition are: cracks in the paint; canvas splits; wood splits; flaking paint.

In Public Art Galleries and museums the environment is maintained by air conditioning and temperature control systems to prevent deterioration and damage. This is not a sensible strategy for most private art collectors which means in the home a modern painting is affected by changes in humidity and temperature . Fortunately the climate in Bath and the rest of the British Isles is reasonable towards modern art. During the summer well ventilated homes create a good environment for modern paintings. And although historically, the British winter months were a concern because rooms suffered from damp and high humidity encouraging mould or mildew - these days effective central heating has stopped these problems. So unless your central heating is seriously over heating and drying out the air there is little to be concerned about in terms of heat and humidity.

For those Modern Art collectors still seriously concerned about the environment around their paintings aim for a constant temperature between 65 and 75 degrees with a relative humidity of no more than 70%.

Where to hang paintings - minimise sunlight

All modern paintings can be adversely affected by excessively high levels of sunlight. This can cause fading and/or darkening of modern paintings and cracks in the paint. After many years some modern paintings can darken so severely that the painting and its details are no longer visible.

Direct sunlight and harmful UV rays should therefore be avoided where ever possible. The suggested light level for modern paintings is 200 lux. Light levels can be measured in some cameras using the light meter.

Ideally to avoid damage to modern art from sunlight, paintings should be displayed in dim areas where no or little direct sunlight is allowed to fall on them.

Where to hang paintings - minimise heat

Modern paintings can be harmed by excessive heat levels. These issues can be compounded if there is also poor air circulation around paintings. Extreme or rapid changes in temperature cause paper and wood to warp and dry out and make adhesives fail.

Care needs be taken with the positioning of paintings and spot lights. Lights that are mounted to the painting frame or directly above it should be avoided. And depending upon wattage, spotlights should be mounted at least three and up to ten feet away from modern paintings to avoid potentially damaging heat buildup.

Placing modern paintings immediately above radiators or fireplaces where temperatures maybe excessive should also be similarly avoided.

Where to hang modern paintings - avoid dust, grime and insects

Grime and dusty environments can be a cause of problems to modern art paintings. Grime and dirt obviously looks unsightly on paintings but may also be acid in composition. If so the acid can speed up the breakdown of art canvas and wood frames making them brittle and more vulnerable to knocks and blows.

Ideally modern paintings should be kept away from areas where oily soot is in the air (near a kitchen) or where there is a possibility of any type of accidental leakage occurring such as pipes or air ducts.

Insects that can cause damage to oil paintings or make paintings look unsightly include:

Carpet beetles - generally subsist on protein-based materials sometimes found in art materials i.e. canvas paintings. Beetles are most often are found at the back of the paintings between the canvas and stretcher. Holes in the canvas or the presence of worm-like insects or furry carcasses are an indication of problems.

Powder post beetles - typically bore small holes (approx. 2mm in diameter) into wooden materials. These holes are generally the first visible evidence of powder post beetle infestation.

Thunder Flies - seem to affect paintings hung near door ways in British Countryside properties. They manage to get under the glass and although harmless can be unsightly. They can be removed easily by our Bath Art Gallery Framer.

Paintings should be routinely taken down and examined for pests. If evidence of infestation is found, the object should be placed in a plastic bag and isolated until it can be examined by a professional art conservator.

How to handle modern paintings

Most damage to modern paintings is caused when being handled and tears, holes, scratches and dents are most likely to happen when your modern painting is being moved. You are advised to look after your art by:

  • Taking paintings out of the room before any decorating work is begun

  • Making sure you have somewhere to put your paintings before you move them

  • Making sure paintings are stacked vertically and the right way up.

  • Placing paintings glass to glass so that the fixing and hangers do not damage the frames. Rest face out against a clear wall or padded surface, away from doorways, furniture and passing people

  • Always making sure your hands are very clean and dry, or wear clean gloves

  • Making sure paintings are securely fitted into frames

  • Carrying paintings with face towards your body and use both hands - one to hold the edge and the other to support it from beneath
    Modern paintings with glass or those with fancy frames can be heavy, you may need two people.

How to clean paintings

Occasionally it will be necessary to clean a painting. A soft cotton cloth or brush is suitable for dusting the frame, and a soft bristled brush should be used to dust off the painting itself.

Never wash a modern painting with a moist cloth as the moisture can eventually leave a white film. Do not use cleaning fluids or water on the varnished surface of oils paintings.

If cleaning fluids have to be used on the glass apply to a duster rather than directly onto the glass. Keep the fluid away from the frame.

Avoid dusting any areas of the painting that are flaking or coming separated from the canvas. Although cracking can be treated with special solvents, we do not recommend that you apply any liquids at all to your painting as even the proper cleaning solvents can cause irreparable damage if applied incorrectly.

The back of the painting should be kept clean by brushing or vacuuming. Excessive dirt should be vacuumed using a small low suction nozzle with a brush attachment. If your painting is in a particularly dusty area ensure it has a dust cover on the back. This will prevent dirt from accumulating behind the painting

To glaze or not to glaze

Customers of Red Rag often ask why some modern paintings have glass whilst others do not. In some cases the answer is just tradition. For example Scottish Artists have traditionally used glass around Oil paintings, so present day artists like George Devlin and James Watt carry on this tradition and tend mostly to use glass on their paintings. Occasionally for practical reasons artists want to protect oil paint which is still wet so glass is used.

James Watt

Glazing protects the surface of modern paintings and reduces the infiltration of light, dirt and dust. The two most common glazing materials used to frame Red Rag modern paintings are acrylic sheet but more likely glass.

An acrylic sheet weighs less than glass and is shatterproof. Because acrylic has a static charge, glass is always used when framing powdery materials such as pastel paintings.

Whether it is glass or acrylic, Red Rag Bath Art Gallery makes sure that the glazing material does not come into direct contact with the surface of the modern painting. Prolonged contact of the glazing with the surface of paintings can result in adhesion to the glazing, or can cause surface changes in the art work. A thick mat or a spacer in the frame keeps the painting from touching the glazing, but a regular annual check is advised.

If you are intending placing a painting in areas of strong sunlight glazing that filters ultraviolet radiation can help reduce the fading of colours. Both glass and acrylic sheet that filter out ultraviolet radiation are available. However paintings glazed with ultraviolet filtering materials can still be damaged by high light levels and long periods of exposure. Limit the quantity of light and the duration of exposure to light to minimise damage to paintings.

The above is really an 'ideal' for those wanting to do everything possible to protect their modern art. Certainly if you follow all the Red Rag Art Gallery suggestions you and your descendents will be assured years of trouble free enjoyment with your Art investment. Most people will tend to leave their modern paintings on the wall for many years - without noticing or experiencing any serious ill effects. Remember above all your Modern Art from Red Rag Gallery is to be enjoyed!

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