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Six mistakes you might be making in hanging or cleaning your art


Whether your gallery wall contains rare French lithographs or drawings by your children, you should do your best to protect what you have chosen to display.

Often we hang things up quickly when we move in, not taking into consideration factors that may damage art over the long term, such as exposing it to sunlight or direct heat from a radiator or HVAC vent.

But how do you actually clean your artworks? Experts say as little and as gently as possible. And if you have cleaning help or a cleaning service, make sure to go over the procedures you would like them to follow when dusting your framed items.

I spoke with Tiarna Doherty, who is chief of conservation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and also oversees programming for the Lunder Conservation Center, which has free clinics on art conservation. She offered solutions for concerns about keeping paintings clean and some basic guidelines for hanging art safely.

For specific concerns about a piece of art, she recommends the American Institute for Conservation, which has a “find a conservator” service.

Go over this list and see if you are making some common mistakes when it comes to the care of your framed art.

  • Using glass cleaner. You should not spray or pour any glass cleaner on your framed art. As tempting and as efficient it might seem, this fluid can seep into the edges of the frame and damage the art and the mat, Doherty says. To clean the glass on a piece of art, use a dry cloth. Or you can mix a little water with rubbing alcohol, dip in a corner of a soft cloth and then wipe your glass.
  • Cleaning wood frames with furniture polish. Spraying or wiping furniture polish on frames is not recommended. You could disrupt a coating or a patina on your frame, Doherty says. An old frame may be made of wood with gilding and should be handled with care. It’s best, she says, to lightly dust a frame with a small, soft dry brush that you can pick up at an art store. Don’t ever use water or any other liquids to clean a frame.
  • Displaying art near an exterior door. Hanging original artwork near a front door exposes it to a lot of light and fluctuations in humidity. Both of these things can damage art, possibly causing it to fade or crack. Try to hang original artworks in a more stable environment away from exterior doors.
  • Storing surplus art in a basement, attic or garage. This is a no no. Basements can be damp environments and attics and garages tend to have vast temperature fluctuations and can get very hot in the summer months, which is not a good environment for original art. Generally, says Doherty, if you are not displaying your artworks, store them leaning against a wall in a closet or a guest room. If you have a stack of them, separate them by boards. Museums use acid-free boards, says Doherty, who recommends Gaylord Archival as a source for archival supplies.
  • Hanging paintings on one nail. Two hooks are always better than one nail. She recommends attaching two metal D-rings, one on each side of a frame, and then attaching to a wall with their corresponding hooks. This type of hardware is readily available and is sold by size indicating the weight it can hold.
  • Art in the bathroom. The condensation, humidity and steam from bath tubs and showers can be damaging to art over time. It’s better to hang your good pieces in places that have less moisture and more ventilation, Doherty says.

  • Using glass cleaner. You should not spray or pour any glass cleaner on your framed art. As tempting and as efficient it might seem, this fluid can seep into the edges of the frame and damage the art and the mat, Doherty says. To clean the glass on a piece of art, use a dry cloth. Or you can mix a little water with rubbing alcohol, dip in a corner of a soft cloth and then wipe your glass.
  • Cleaning wood frames with furniture polish. Spraying or wiping furniture polish on frames is not recommended. You could disrupt a coating or a patina on your frame, Doherty says. An old frame may be made of wood with gilding and should be handled with care. It’s best, she says, to lightly dust a frame with a small, soft dry brush that you can pick up at an art store. Don’t ever use water or any other liquids to clean a frame.
  • Displaying art near an exterior door. Hanging original artwork near a front door exposes it to a lot of light and fluctuations in humidity. Both of these things can damage art, possibly causing it to fade or crack. Try to hang original artworks in a more stable environment away from exterior doors.
  • Storing surplus art in a basement, attic or garage. This is a no no. Basements can be damp environments and attics and garages tend to have vast temperature fluctuations and can get very hot in the summer months, which is not a good environment for original art. Generally, says Doherty, if you are not displaying your artworks, store them leaning against a wall in a closet or a guest room. If you have a stack of them, separate them by boards. Museums use acid-free boards, says Doherty, who recommends Gaylord Archival as a source for archival supplies.
  • Hanging paintings on one nail. Two hooks are always better than one nail. She recommends attaching two metal D-rings, one on each side of a frame, and then attaching to a wall with their corresponding hooks. This type of hardware is readily available and is sold by size indicating the weight it can hold.
  • Art in the bathroom. The condensation, humidity and steam from bath tubs and showers can be damaging to art over time. It’s better to hang your good pieces in places that have less moisture and more ventilation, Doherty says.



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