General Collection Care Tips

Overview of Top Concerns

Condition of the artwork

Before a work of art is purchased, and before and after each subsequent move, it should be carefully examined for any condition issues.

Any inherent vice should be dealt with by a conservator, framer, mount maker or other professional. For example, does a work on paper have foxing (brown marks indicating the presence of mold spoors)? Are there creases or tears?   Is it mounted or matted on acidic material?

Does a painting on canvas have the proper support, or is the canvas buckling or creasing, or out of square?  Is the paint stable or is it crackling or flaking ?

Upon close inspection, does a piece of wooden furniture look dry, and is its surface crazing? Are there any loose joints, or stress cracks? Wooden table tops are vulnerable to warping, splitting, and broken joints. Inspect also for worm holes and look nearby for signs of infestation.

A baseline condition report should be recorded and archived.

Having a conservator address any issues as soon as they are discovered will go far to prevent future problems, and the work will retain its beauty and value.

Condition of Mountings

Not only should the artwork be checked for inherent vice, and any condition issues be addressed, but it is also important to see that any mat, mount or frame is not doing damage to the work of art.

Mounts and bases for sculpture should support the piece at its strongest point and properly distributed for the weight. A successful support is not overly complex and is easily removable.

Environmental Conditions

Preservation of collections is affected by relative humidity, temperature, light, air pollution, and pests. It is important to understand the potential for damage that each of these factors presents, the preferred environmental conditions for different types of objects, and strategies for approaching that goal.

Maintaining a stable temperature and relative humidity is desirable, as extreme fluctuations can result in severe damage by changes in shape and size, chemical deterioration, and biodeteriation.

Materials such as wood, ivory, textiles, paper and some adhesives wil expand with an increase in RH, changing them dimensionally. When the RH lowers, the materials give up moisture and contract,  which can cause efflorescence, buckling, cockling, and warping.

The appropriate RH for any object is the range at which any change is minimized.

For spaces that contain mixed collections, a temperature of 70 degrees and relative humidity of 40- 50% is generally safe.  There are a variety of temperature and RH monitors that can be obtained from your local hardware store, or online, so that you can find out what are your baseline temp and RH, and act to get them into an acceptable range.

The building that houses collections must also be taken into consideration. Condensation on interior walls can form as outside temperature drops. It is highly recommended to store or hang your art on on interior wall where temperature and humidity vary less.

Similarly, do not hang works of art above an in-use fireplace or place furniture near radiators.

Windows should have UV filtering glass or film on them if there are important pieces of art, furniture or textiles in the room.

Handling

Ideally, an object should be handled as infrequently as possible. When storing objects, be certain that you do not have to move other artwork out of the way in order to perform routine maintenance such as cleaning and inventorying.

One should have a plan for where an item is going, and a clear view with open doors and walkways before lifting up the piece.

Two dimensional items should be lifted from two sides; never touch the face of a painting; do not wrap hands around stretcher bars at the back of a canvas, or lift it from the top edge only.

Furniture should be handled from the strongest point, using as many people as necessary. Any separate parts should be removed before handling, and movable parts should be secured with twill tape or soft cord.

Ceramics and sculpture should be handled from the strongest point and never by a handle, stem or spout.  Use two hands and handle only one object at a time.

Nitrile gloves should be worn at all times.

Documentation

All invoices, certificates, instructions, valuations and any other paper records related to the art work need to be carefully filed. Copies should be kept in a safe and separate place in case of emergency.

Ideally, these, along with a photographic record, condition reports, and all other pertinent information should kept electronically, in a database. There are many off-the-shelf art databases available, and the one you choose will depend on your platform, type of collection, access needs, and budget. This is material for an entire post, so stay tuned for more on art databases.

There will be more specific blog posts on collections care topics and issues, so please feel free to ask questions or request tip topics! 

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