Framing and displaying an artwork properly can help draw attention to a work, enhance its visual appeal, and keep it safe. Poorly framing or displaying a work of art, on the other hand, can lead to discoloration, fading, acid burn, and other severe and unnecessary damage.
Investing in high quality framing can help ensure that your artwork is better protected for the future. Proper framing and display borrows the knowledge and strategies of conservators, who dedicate their lives to preserving the integrity of art. Therefore, the commonly used phrase is “conservation-grade” framing (“museum-grade” is synonymous).
We asked our Custom Frame and Fabrication (CFF) Department heads, Kelly Reynolds and Molly Maguire, about the importance of conservation-grade framing and display. Molly said, “When framers can consult with the conservators in real-time, it ensures that the methods and materials are safe for the artwork. The way a piece is framed and displayed drastically affects the life and longevity of the work. In addition to aesthetic aspects of framing design, it is important to focus on mounting and fitting techniques so they do not directly alter the artwork, but instead work to preserve the piece.”
Some potential problems with non-conservation-grade framing they identified are:
· Direct contact between glazing and art. Glazing can adhere to the art and can cause injury to the piece when it is removed.
· Use of acidic matting materials in housing. Acid from framing materials can be transferred to the artwork through contact. This causes discoloration and brittleness. It is important to use non-acidic, archival materials that don’t harm the pieces. Additionally, mats should be fade- and bleed-resistant, pH-neutral and cotton 100% rag.
· Improper mounting. This can cause slippage, and art can become compromised.A trusted conservation mounting technique includes hinging with acid-free Japanese tissue held to the work with rice or wheat starch paste, a method that is museum and conservator approved, as well as reversible.
· Inappropriate glazing. Older glass is generally not UV-protective, and both natural and artificial light can cause discoloration of the work. Safer options include glass or acrylic that filters UV rays. One great option is Optium Acrylic, a museum-grade acrylic that offers UV protection, had anti-reflective properties, and is static- and scratch-resistant.
· Unstable framing or fitting. Structural instabilities can cause damage to the art when it is shipped or transported. Since the safety of an artwork should be prioritized, it is critical to ensure proper fitting of your piece.
· Improper hanging hardware can warp the frame or cause a piece of art to fall off the wall. It is important to always make sure the hardware is secure to prevent severe damage. Old and brittle wiring or other hardware should be replaced to minimize potential accidental damage.
Conservation-grade framing is beneficial in that mounting methods are reversible and will not harm the art. Conservation science is always advancing; some materials that were considered archival 20-30 years ago have been found to be acidic, and more stable materials and processes have been developed in subsequent years. Upgrading your framing and displays with more contemporary methods prolongs the life of your art and protects your investment.
Some of our Favorite Framing and Display projects
Meet our Custom Framers
Molly studied art on the east coast. During her time working in galleries there, she became particularly interested in framing and display techniques. In 2010, she began to pursue conservation framing full time through training in the Boston area and further work and study in Chicago. She enjoys the challenge of designing projects to meet both aesthetic and conservation requirements, and building relationships with clients through this process.
Working in the art and framing industry for over 18 years, Kelly applies high standards for quality in all aspects of her work. She considers herself a craftsperson and an artist. Her taste is informed by visits to world class art museums; Kelly’s interest in fine art and display was first piqued by frequent journeys through the Detroit Institute of Arts starting as a child. She enjoys researching the science behind archival materials and practices, she believes in the importance of preservation, and she designs display solutions that present works of art in a thoughtful way.
Kim began working in conservation framing in 2006 after studying History of Art & Architecture at DePaul University. She loves hearing clients’ stories about why their piece is important to them and finding the best way to interpret individual history through its physical display. After years of learning about conservation materials and problem solving unique framing projects she is excited to work with The Conservation Center as Chicago's leader in conservation of fine art objects and dedication to showcasing art so it lasts a lifetime.
Maira received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute in 2014, where she studied ceramic sculpture, painting, and printmaking. After finishing school, she attended a ceramic-focused residency in Virginia until the summer of 2015, when she started working in custom framing in Chicago. Maira now has a rich studio practice focused around painting, sculpture, and installation; and is enthusiastic about the protection and display of all kinds of artwork.