Art Collecting Tips for Profit and Pleasure (A Six-Part Series): Part 5 – Art Conservation 101

Brenda T. Weitzman

After you’ve spent precious time and resources building up an art collection, it
would be a shame to have its value depreciate because of a lack if knowledge of
proper care and conservation for works of art. Some ageing is natural and
acceptable to a certain degree, but deterioration or damage due to negligence is
not, especially when it can be avoided.

You’ve probably seen what humidity, light and mold can do to photo prints and film.
The same environmental conditions which inflict this kind of damage threatens your
art pieces. In fact, with the worsening environment, art works are more in danger
than ever before. Even modern lifestyles pose a threat. Have you noticed how art
galleries and museums discourage the use of flash cameras and other artificial light
sources in the presence of their exhibits?

As the curator of your own collection, you would be well-advised to protect your art
pieces from the following hazards:

Pollution

Dust, dirt, human bodily fluids and oils (such as perspiration) and acids are
corrosive and discoloring to art. The first three elements are obvious, but where do
acids come from? These can be found in household cleaners, air fresheners,
chemicals found in furniture, carpets, curtains, appliances, packaging and even the
air. Direct skin contact is also damaging to art, which is why handling art works with
bare hands should be avoided.

Humidity

This may be good for the skin but the same cannot be said to be true for art.
Humidity, moisture or dampness cultivates mold and causes foxing, or brown
spotting on the art. Storerooms are typically humid and poorly-ventilated, the
perfect breeding ground for these evils, as well as vermin like silverfish and
cockroaches. Even paintings and prints displayed on walls can be destroyed by the
wormholes or worm tracks of silverfish. Check any art on display regularly for any
potential problems.

Heat

A very dry environment can also be damaging to art. Constant humidity of less than
40% can make art works, especially paper or textile-based ones, brittle and very
fragile. Humidity should range from 40% to 60%. Modern living environments in
cooler climates widely use central heating or radiators which may make conditions
far too dry for delicate art. To minimize the problem, try placing bowls of water on
radiators.

Radical fluctuations in temperature can cause items to expand and contract. Art
should preferably be kept at a constant temperature, just like in special exhibition
rooms in museums.

Light

Art cannot be appreciated without light but too much light is detrimental to art, as
the UV found in both natural and artificial light fades colors and details.

Protective Options

So what can you do to protect your art collection?

You can try to keep your art pieces in a relatively pollutant-free, temperature, light
and humidity-controlled environment. This may involve:

  • purchasing and installing special boxes, chests, cabinets or folders
  • designating a special purpose-built room or area for your collection
  • renting specialized storage space designed for housing delicate art

Some protective options, such a metal cabinets, are rather ugly, but they will protect
your valuable items more effectively than, say, wood. Not all materials are equal;
acrylic plastic is preferred to glass, and acid-free paper is better than normal paper.
You’ll find some examples here:

[http://www.home-museum.com/How-To-Arts/how-to_contents.htm][http://www.home-museum.com/How-To-Arts/how-to_contents.htm]

The variables can be confusing, so seek the advice of an art specialist or archiving
expert to get started on the right foot.

If you keep your lovely art works safely tucked away under lock and key, you will not
have the pleasure of displaying and admiring them. That would be like having the
cake and not being able to eat it. Find a balance that suits your requirements.

Copyright © 2006 Carol Chua

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