Showcasing Art

August 01, 2017

Showcasing art is one of the most demanding lighting tasks. The client is proud of his or her grand, fine artifact, and now wants to show it off in the best possible light. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools to help the designer and the owner achieve their goal. First, what type of light bulb is best when lighting art?

Fluorescent? No! Color rendering is important in the illumination of art, and fluorescent tubes do not provide a great rendering of color. Additionally, they emit ultraviolet light (UV), which degrades color, paper, and fabric. Fluorescent should be avoided.

Standard Incandescent? Maybe. While this is the warm, romantic light that most seek when lighting a residential space, that warm romantic glow is not the best source for making colors pop in the paintings. And again, there is the issue of the UV light. This is a matter of personal taste, though, and there are many who like the somewhat dim, warm glow of light on their paintings.

Quartz Halogen? Far and away the best choice for making paintings come to life. The crisp, bright color rendering that halogen provides is unequaled by any other. And the glass lens that is required when using quartz halogen bulbs filters most of the UV. For the purist, or when art is very valuable, there are additional lenses available that will filter all the UV. The last on-tour-showing of the Armand Hammer Collection was at The Dixon in Memphis, Tennessee. The show went up when quartz halogen was first introduced, and we lit the art with the new bulbs. The director of the Dixon later related that Mr. Hammer told him the collection had never looked so good.  It was the light.

LED? This technology is coming on strong. Still evolving, LED already offers good color rendering, long life, and emits no UV rays. It is particularly good in commercial applications in which maintenance is an issue.

Once the light source has been chosen, the delivery system becomes important. Picture lights attached to the frame or wall are available with incandescent, halogen or LED. Lights that recess in the ceiling or mount to track are also available using each of the lamping options. It is important to remember that flat, wall mounted art often has a fairly glossy surface, whether painted with oil or behind glass. The light source should be located to avoid visible reflections. Careful installation planning can eliminate unsightly glare. Consider setting, light source location, and art viewing angle. This is definitely a task that can use some help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.