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Protecting Your Art
The least problematic threat to your art collection is theft! Unlike gold bullion, diamonds, a coin collection, or cold cash, stolen art is tough to re-sell. The only certain threat to art is scarcely noticeable, and creeps up on it in tiny increments. What we are going to talk about today is protecting your art from environmental problems.

People harbor misinformation about the damage caused by light. This is the biggest common problem and quite a serious one. While it is common knowledge that works on paper are vulnerable to light damage, it is useful to recognize that this applies to paintings as well, and that there are some good means available to slow down the damage. Note that all I say is slow it down, though I am acquainted with a case where light damage was all but totally arrested.
It is important to protect artwork facing large windows. Unidentified painter, Drawing Second Empire Salon, 1850-60, Brush and watercolor, gouache, graphite on white wove paper, PD
Early in my career as an art curator, I visited a lovely Long Island lady, now deceased, who had the most amazing collection of watercolors by Georgia O’Keefe, Marsden Hartley, Oscar Blumner, Charles Sheeler, Stuart Davis. Every one featured bright strident color and pure white paper. They looked like they had been done yesterday instead of the 1920s. After we viewed each room, she switched off the lights. Black out shades were apparently always down. She informed me that the minute guests leave, the pictures go into total darkness. Window shades went up only for a party. This is extreme for most of you, but it illustrates the point.
Light fades pigment: photography and watercolors are especially susceptible, as are many prints, though silkscreens less so. The notion that oils and acrylics are totally invulnerable is quite false, but they are stronger by far than works on paper. If you have a paper collection, and there are enough works, it is best to rotate the display. Let the works rest for a while in a closet and then switch them out with something else. MOMA is keeping their collection display fresh by this exact method.
Photo: Samples of Arches watercolor paper
What you can do about this is to take reasonable precautions. Avoid installing your art in direct south light. If you have no choice, get black out shades (see photo) and use them as often as practical when the room is unoccupied. Also, get UV protection for your windows. If not actual UV glass, use the film version: professional installers can apply this successfully to existing windows. Your framed art under glass should be using UV glass. Hardly anything is framed these days without it, but you are wise to ask.

Also in your framing, demand acid fee materials. Most fine art prints are printed on rag paper, which is stable, but if mounted on a paper backing made of wood pulp, acids will leach into your print and discolor it. Likewise, if humidity conditions are too wet, or heat too high, or temperature fluctuations too extreme, there can be a other problems like wrinkling The tape or glue used to hinge or mount works on paper should specifically be acid free. Though high level framers do this properly as a matter of course, if you own an older work, or buy one, this might not have been the case. It is then necessary to take the picture out of the compromised frame for conservation. An obvious point for paintings is that they should have a backing when framed. By sealing up the reverse, you’ve doubled your odds for safety!
No single protective measure is absolute, but as our respected art conservator friend Alexander Katlan has said, the collector’s goal should simply be “to retard the degradation.” To that end, take into consideration the environmental circumstances when hanging any work of art. Try to put the vulnerable pieces where they have the best conditions to preserve their pristine colors. Incidentally, when you buy a work on the secondary market, one that has been previously owned, pre-existing condition is crucial and sometimes explains seeming bargains.

Museums, collectors, and even artists, are increasingly using glass when framing paintings in oil and acrylic. This formerly was regarded as a visual distraction and avoided. Since today’s improved non-reflective glass is available in grades that approach the clarity of using absolutely nothing, there is little reason now to allow a valuable painting to remain unprotected. Enjoy your collection! If you honor your responsibilities of stewardship carefully, the works will stay in great shape to give you continuing pleasure and for future generations as well.
Photos: Alexander Katlan examines a painting and looks at an x-ray in his conservation laboratory,
Want more?

CLICK HERE to read about renowned art conservator Alexander Katlan and his laboratory in Long Island Pulse Magazine's article, " Unraveling the Mystery
of Paintings" in 2014.

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