How to Display and Protect Your Investment Paintings
Installation, shipping, and cleaning aren’t typically the first things you think of when you are shopping for investment art but these factors are just as important as selecting the painting itself. Conservation and collection care are essential components for protecting the value of your fine art investment.
Every collector must consider the responsibilities of owning a precious work of art. How is the art moved and stored? How will it best be displayed and maintained?
This guide provides an overview of how to display and protect your canvas paintings. We will cover the essentials of installation, care, and conservation. These processes may require the help of trained specialists.
How to Display a Canvas Painting
For centuries now canvas has been the go-to material for painting as the successor to wood panel backdrops. Part of the reason is that canvas has many advantages over wood, especially when using acrylic paint.
Canvas is flexible in terms of shape, size, and price. Another advantage is portability. Even large-scale paintings on canvas are relatively lightweight compared to wood panels. Although canvas is durable, maintenance is required to prevent deterioration and preserve value.
There are several different levels of quality for archival paintings, including conservation grade and museum grade. The latter is the highest quality and the most expensive but any level of care will certainly be a valuable investment.
Let’s start with the most important part of displaying your investment painting… framing!
The Fundamentals of Framing
One of the #1 rules on protecting your artwork is to frame it. But rules are made to be broken.
There are no definitive rules when displaying a canvas painting. It can be framed or unframed. It all depends on the aesthetic you are after. Unframed paintings are versatile and fit with many different design motifs. Many people forgo the frame to get a sleek, modern look.
While frames can add an extra layer of protection to your investment paintings, unframed canvases still have the support of an internal wood frame that prevents sagging.
Now, if you are looking for a frame, you have plenty of choices. Sometimes it’s easy, and your investment painting comes with the perfect frame. Other times it can take extra time and research to find the right fit. A professional framer is invaluable in these cases. Some framers will even transport the painting, which may be more convenient than moving it yourself.
Choice of Glass
Most fine art investors will choose museum glass, but it depends on the condition and vulnerability of your artwork. There are a range of different glass for paintings of all shapes and sizes you can use. Below are three categories:
Non-glare and regular glass
These common glass frames are what you would typically see at a craft or hardware store. These are great for inexpensive paintings, but they offer 0% protection against UV rays.
The next step up. Plexiglass is lightweight, shatterproof and resistant to around 60% of UV rays. One thing to keep in mind is that plexiglass requires different care than glass, and it’s more likely to scratch.
This is the best way to protect your artwork investment. Although it’s more expensive, museum glass protects paintings from 99% of harmful UV rays. Anti-reflective glass is also available for an extra fee.
Mat or No Mat?
A framer can also help you choose the mat, which can dramatically affect the display. A mat is a spacer that separates the painting from the glass and frame. These spacers come in an endless variety of shapes, colors, textures, sizes, and more.
Installation Guidelines: How to Hang a Canvas Painting
Finally! Getting to hang the art is one of the most exciting parts of the acquisition process.
The installation and canvas art display is an often overlooked but very important part of the viewers’ experience. Where and how you display a canvas painting says a lot about your personal style.
Most of the time, the artwork is installed upon delivery or soon after. A team of handlers and other professionals (architects, interior designers, etc.) will oversee the entire installation process.
Before any packing begins, you’ll want to make sure you have the perfect place to hang a large canvas painting. Nowadays, technology helps us take much of the guesswork out of the installation process, allowing you to cycle through canvas wall display ideas to see what works.
For example, when you acquire corporate art from David Stanley Hewet, the Hewett Gallery team uses 3D modeling software to show collectors exactly how to display canvas art and what their artwork will look like after installation.
Hanging 101: Canvas Wall Display Ideas
The following guidelines may be helpful when you are trying to determine how to display your canvas art.
- When you are hanging a painting, observe the emotions coming from the work itself. What direction do the lines go in? What about the angles? How does it fit into the context of the room?
- Keep a measuring tape handy.
- Don’t underestimate the power of the eye. It may not be the best approach to rely solely on measurements. The measuring tape should be a guide for your objective, not a hard set of rules.
- Generally, it is recommended to hang artwork between 57” and 60” from the floor to the center of the painting.
- To hang a large canvas painting above a sofa or console, you can place the artwork approximately 2/3 width of the furniture and allow for 8-10 inches from the furniture to the painting.
- Another canvas wall display idea is to design a grid gallery wall. You can select paintings with a similar theme and consistent frames or go with completely different pieces in mixed frames for an eclectic look. You should hang large and medium canvas 2-3 inches apart, and smaller pieces 1.5-2.5 inches apart.
- Measuring alone doesn’t always get the best results. It’s best to observe the position of the painting when someone holds the piece. Make sure to view the work from both seated and standing positions.
Light can illuminate your art and put its beauty on full display, but it can also be harmful. Collectors need to keep a close eye on lighting when it comes to the care of their investments.
There are plenty of art installation experts who specialize in lighting. These art handlers pay close attention to the lighting during the installation process because ultraviolet light can damage a painting.
Below are some lighting tips to protect your paintings:
- Place lamps at least 10 feet from the painting. Use low wattage bulbs (60 watts max).
- Position spotlights so they don’t shine directly on the painting.
- Use overhead lighting sparingly.
- Fluorescent bulbs that produce ultraviolet rays or incandescent light can cause a painting to fade.
How to Protect Canvas Paintings: Cleaning and Conservation
Aging will leave paintings dull and dirty as time goes on.
One of the most common methods of conservation is cleaning. Dusting, cleaning the glass, or wiping the frame excluded is typically not something people do themselves. You can literally wipe the value out of your investment.
Damage from overcleaning is very difficult to undo. In many cases, it’s tougher to repair than a tear. If it’s a valuable work of art, carefully weigh your choices. More often than not, it’s best to leave it in the hands of a professional conservator.
The conservation process to protect your artwork can cost a significant amount of time and money, but it’s just another aspect of collecting valuable art. Conservators rely on unconventional cleaning methods to avoid damaging the artwork.
Conservation vs Restoration
You may have heard both of these terms used interchangeably. While it’s easy to confuse “conservation” with “restoration,” they are quite different.
Restoration is the act of restoring a painting to bring it back to its original condition. Conservation, on the other hand, is a more broad term, which can be described as the overall process of preserving a painting. This involves everything from cleaning and display to storage and insurance.
Despite the confusion, both conservation and restoration of artwork are done by a conservator. There are conservators who specialize in every branch of art, including sculpture, photography, paintings, street art, ceramics, and more.
If you are looking for a conservator or want to learn more about this incredibly vast, fascinating field, the American Institute for Conservation is a good place to start.
Below are some tips on ways you can learn how to protect your artwork to retain its value.
Dusting the Canvas
Even something as simple as dusting may not make sense for you to do yourself. Unless you have the necessary experience, it may be better not to risk potentially causing damage.
A few times a year, take the artwork down and place it against a wall at an angle. Dust it lightly with a soft, dry cloth or brush. Avoid using feather dusters because feathers may get stuck in your artwork.
Cleaning the Frame
Cleaning the frame is something easy that you can do yourself. All you need is a cloth and the proper cleaning material. Be cautious with cleaning solvents as they can remove the paint.
Wood frames: use a microfiber cloth and a gentle wood-cleaning product.
Plastic or acrylic frames: clean gently with a microfiber towel and warm soapy water.
Silver frames: silver will oxidize and tarnish if you don’t keep an eye on it. Silver polish and a soft cloth will help.
Brass frames: tarnished brass has a classic look, but if it becomes too weathered, use a warm water and vinegar solution. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then wipe away.
Gilded frames: these frames are delicate and expensive. We recommend that you find a professional if you need help cleaning a gilded frame.
There is a risk anytime you are moving an artwork. The white-glove treatment means handling with care. Another invisible threat to your artwork is human contact. It may not be apparent at first, but the natural oils and acids from our perspiration can create yellow stains on the paintings.
Keep several pairs of archival handling white cotton gloves on hand to protect your canvas paintings. Proceed with caution when you are moving artwork, support both sides of the frame to evenly distribute the weight. Never lean your artwork on anything but a flat surface to prevent stretching and sagging.
Protect Paintings From Light and Heat
Two more of the biggest challenges conservators deal with are light and heat. Although conservators have an incredible repertoire of tools at their disposal, it’s extremely difficult to reverse the damage of a faded painting.
Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light can easily cause permanent damage to your fine art investment. Exposure to heat is another issue. Too much heat will gradually deteriorate the painting, making it hard to identify while it’s happening. Despite this, many people want to display their paintings near windows.
While there are stories of collectors taking such extreme measures to preserve their investment paintings that they shut all the blinds and curtains, you don’t need to go that far. Instead, you can install UV filters on windows or use a solar shade to protect your painting from light damage. If you leave town for an extended period of time, cover the painting.
Another solution is using a UV filtering acrylic glaze. If you have very delicate works of art that are prone to damage, you will most likely want to rotate and store them periodically.
Humidity is one of the worst enemies of canvas paintings, especially since the damage is hard to notice. When the relative humidity (RH) or the relative temperature fluctuates, it can cause the paint to expand and contract. This often happens due to improper climate control.
It’s a good idea to avoid extreme shifts in temperature, such as shutting off the air conditioner rather than gradually raising the temperature. Many collectors who invest in paintings take measures to ensure that the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system is optimized for their artwork investments.
Shipping and Storage
The logistics of shipping and storage are usually determined during the acquisition process. Sometimes delivering an artwork is as easy as picking it up under your arm and carrying it to your car. Other times it may require substantial planning and expertise.
Packaging is important for both storage and shipping. Below are some general packing principles to protect canvas paintings:
- Use secure, benign packing materials like foam, cardboard, and acid-free tissue.
- Bubble wrap is invaluable. It should be used with other materials, but don’t place it on the surface of the artwork. It can leave an imprint on the art.
- For short trips, travel frames or shadow boxes are useful for artwork without backing.
- Special considerations must be taken for shipping wood internationally.
- The collector or a representative should closely supervise the delivery and unpacking. To examine the art in detail and document any minor changes.
Storing artwork is closely related to shipping it and it is often handled by the same company. Many companies offer bundled packages that include other services such as handling and installation.
As more people invest in artwork and galleries become larger, so do the facilities where they store their paintings. The art shipping industry is filled with specialists who manage every aspect of moving a painting from point A to point B.
Warehouses dedicated to housing art usually have viewing rooms where you can show the artwork to potential buyers. Other features to look for are real-time monitoring and online collection data management.
Choosing a Storage Facility
Choosing a storage facility is a big deal, and most collectors use a trusted advisor or group of advisors to help them make this decision. Below are some questions to ask yourself when you are searching for a storage facility to make sure that your artwork is protected.
- What kind of security does the facility have? 24/7 monitoring? Visitor check-ins? Who has access to the paintings?
- How is the artwork handled? Who works there, and what are their standard procedures?
- Is there adequate fire and smoke protection? What kind of alarms do they have in place?
- What kind of HVAC controls are in place?
- Is the warehouse in an area prone to natural disasters like floods?
- What else is stored in the building or neighboring buildings? Flammable materials might be a concern.
- How reliable is their inventory system? Is your artwork easily accessible? Can you track its progress, is it clearly identified?
- How do they manage their billing?
- How is shipping managed? Do they have outdoor or indoor loading docs?
- Consider the following when you are considering looking for a shipping company:
- Are you dealing directly with the logistics company or is it a subcontractor?
- Does the company own all of its own equipment? Are the crates made on-premises?
- Is there an enclosed loading dock in their facility?
Emergency Contingency Plans
Another essential responsibility of an investor is a backup plan. Many people invest in paintings to create a hedge against financial crises. That way, when disaster strikes, they can liquidate their holdings to recover from heavy losses.
When the real estate bubble burst in 2008, the art market’s low correlation to traditional assets was on full display. Although sales in the art market did eventually decline, overall didn’t universally diminish. In 2009, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Yves Saint Laurent’s sold its collection for nearly $484 million.
A comprehensive disaster plan will map out a plan of action for different scenarios. The plan should be based on the situation. Naturally, a flood or an earthquake will require different preparations than a financial emergency.
Depending on the situation, steps might involve removing artwork from the walls and moving them to a safe location, with the awareness that there may not be power or access to roads.
Here are some tips for handling a disaster:
- If an event damages your artwork, an immediate sequence of steps must be taken to ensure recovery.
- Inspect your artwork for damage
- Photograph and document all damage immediately
- In the case of water damage, remove all wet or damp materials from the painting. This includes wooden frames and mats.
- Damage or no damage, keep the art in a well-ventilated space. Mold grows fast in dampness.
- Never dispose of artwork until you have spoken to your conservator.
Routine accidents can happen at any time, especially in the home. A child might take a crayon and draw all over your painting, a party guest could slip and spill wine all over the canvas. There was even one couple who accidentally defaced a $500,000 painting because they thought it was an immersive art installation like some of Yayoi Kusama’s exhibits.
Insurance helps protect your art from theft, natural disasters, and a whole slew of other hazards. Most of the time, collectors don’t deal with carriers directly. Instead, they go through a broker. Insurance for art policies are negotiable and renewals are opportunities to make changes.
As with conservation and care, insurance policies for corporate artworks can be overwhelmingly complex. You’ll need a good lawyer to help assess the policy.
We touched earlier on the stock market crash, and other disasters. Events like 9/11, the crash of 2008, and hurricane Katrina changed the landscape of fine art insurance. Most insurers adjusted policies to account for such disasters.
Digital management is one of the best ways to protect your fine art investment. A comprehensive collection management platform from a trusted source is a great way to manage your collection.
A digital version of your plan should be accessible by anyone who needs access to the information. Printed copies can also be kept onsite in fireproof storage boxes. Also, keep physical copies of all paperwork in an offsite location.
Discover David Stanley Hewett’s Japanese Inspired Avant-Garde Art
It takes a small village to properly care for and conserve a valuable art collection. Whether you have 1 painting or 100, it always helps to have an expert you can trust on your side to help you determine how to display your canvas art and figure out how to protect your artwork.
David Stanley Hewett’s Japanese-inspired fine art serves to preserve the traditional artistry and culture of Japan. Our team has over 30 years of experience facilitating the acquisition, installation, and management of precious artworks.
We understand the challenges, complexities, and logistics of the acquisition process from the collector’s point of view. We can help you find the perfect piece of art and connect you to experts that will help navigate the process.