Art transportation can be difficult and challenging even for professionals, but art storage involves many risks too. I’m sure you’re aware that sunlight fades colors, but, for example, did you know that using plastic wrap can lead to mold because it traps humidity inside? Although it’s an investment, you can ultimately save money by building a proper storage space in your house. And if you are working with professionals, it’s good to be well informed on the subject. This article will explain the must-know basics of responsible art storage.
THE RIGHT PLACE FOR ART STORAGE
Different pieces of art require different environments and different preparations for storage. Choosing the proper premises for storage is the first step. Almost any room can be converted into a place to store art if you know how to make it suitable. The most important thing is that the room has to be finished and isolated from the outside world. It should be a closed area with minimal or zero human traffic. Avoid putting your artwork in rooms with exterior walls. This prevents sunlight from reaching your artwork and is also useful against temperature changes.
You can turn an office or a closet into an art storage space, but you must know how to choose the proper room. Basements or attics are not ideal unless they are insulated and are equipped with climate control. Check that there are no broken windows or open air vents. Is there a vent in your storage room? Consult a specialist about installing baffles so the drafts don’t directly reach the artwork. And sniff the air from time to time: dust and mold have very specific smells. If you detect these or any stale stench, check every part of the room.
TEMPERATURE, LIGHT & HUMIDITIY
According to Derek Smith, art storage expert and president of AXIS Fine Art Installation, “with antiques, if you think about it, they have survived hundreds of years in homes that are not climate controlled.” Some of these pieces have been around long before air conditioning was invented so they are pretty good in withstanding temperatures. But when you’re dealing with modern art you need to be more cautious. An encaustic painting, for example, which is made of a wax-based paint, melts very quickly, especially in the summer – it will start dripping while you’re at the grocery store. So let’s check out a couple of useful tips on how to avoid these kind of catastrophes.
Keep temperatures between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (21-24 degrees Celsius). For most pieces of art, a stable, cool temperature is the best. Extreme or changing climates can crack paint, yellow paper, and encourage mold growth. If you don’t have any storage that stays a steady temperature, maybe you can use a storage unit. Call nearby companies to see if they have climate-controlled units available.
Your enemy here is invisible. Ultraviolet light is radiation beyond the visible portion of violet in the color spectrum. And sunlight contains a lot of ultraviolet light, which is harmful to all works on paper, museum objects, leathers, and fabrics. Do not hang framed artwork on a wall that will receive direct sunlight. You can use UV filtering materials to help mitigate indirect UV exposure. Place it over windows and neon tubes or any other light sources. According to Archival Methods, the right tools for the war on light damage are UV filtering Plexiglas and Acrylite, two lightweight, shatter-resistant materials that can be used instead of glass in your picture frames.
Objects are often composed of more than one type of material. Each material responds differently to water vapor in the air. The general recommendation for art storage is a humidity of 40-50%. This shouldn’t be a problem in a room of the house you live in, especially if you know how to use humidity buffering materials such as silica gel to control humidity within small, isolated environments. The main goal here is to keep the humidity constant, and not to allow it to fluctuate. Have a sensor installed in your art storage room and connect it to your phone so it can send you alerts if something is off.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT PUT ANYTHING ON THE GROUND
One of the most important rules of art storage is to never store your paintings or sculptures on the ground. You should always avoid your artwork touching the floor of the room you’re using for art storage. Smaller objects should go into drawers or on shelves. Use racks or risers to keep larger boxes elevated.
Keep in mind that art is meant to be staged or hung. An ideal storage place for paintings would be a dark room with chains hanging from the ceilings in parallel rows with hooks on which you can hang your artwork and not worry about a thing. Not many people have this kind of room in their house, though, so remember: If your art storage space is scarce, store your artwork like books on a shelf – never piled, only with the edge down.
THE MOST COMMON STORAGE SITUATIONS
According to ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials by Steven Saitzyk, these are the recommended solutions for the most frequent storage situations faced by artists and collectors.
Stretched and framed artwork is supposed to be put on racks that allows air to flow freely. The racks should be also exposed to minimal light to avert the appearance of fungus.
Paper artwork which is unframed can be put in flat file drawers lined with museum board which can prevent mechanical damage. The museum board protects against acids in wooden drawers.
Paper artwork can be stacked if the pieces are isolated from each other with pH neutral slip-sheets.
Paintings on canvas may be rolled if first they are dried thoroughly, then rolled on a thick tube with the painted side out. Protect the surface with glassine- paper. The painted side should be placed on the outside since cracks that might form will be pushed back when the picture is unrolled.
If you’re afraid that insects might harm your artwork, metal flat file drawers are the best. Wooden drawers are recommended when the primary concern is humidity .
PREPARING THE ART FOR STORAGE
Always wear latex or cotton gloves when handling art. Some materials are very sensitive, even to the grease and oils on your fingers.
Check that all artwork is dry. Oil paintings, for example, can take up to an entire year to dry.
Cleaning artwork before storage will extend its lifespan. Use a dry microfiber cloth to gently sweep across frames, ceramics, and glass panels. Use soft, wide brushes for painted surfaces and drawings. Metal sculptures or frames can be cleaned with an oil-based polish and a dry rag.
Protect framed paintings with acid-free tissue. Many packing materials contain acid, and thus art will age much faster and change its color. Using acid-free tissue, wrap it around the painting to protect it and give it breathing room. Do not use plastic wrap because you risk trapping humidity inside.
Put smaller prints together in sturdy folders. Use acid-free paper to separate them from each other.
Unframed paper can be sealed in glassine about two times the size of each piece. Wrap it as you would wrap a present, then tape it down. Bubble wrap can be used to wrap sculptures and other 3D objects.
BUT WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SEPARATE ART STORAGE ROOM IN YOUR HOUSE?
Well, check out this video for a well-built homemade art storage system.
A final piece of advice: Even if you've taken all the necessary precautions, make sure to check your art storage at least every month. Even if you’ve created the best conditions for your objects, unexpected changes and problems can occur in the room used for art storage. Examine your collection regularly for signs of pests: holes in the walls, pieces of hair and feces, remains from feeding, or cocoons. Leave traps on the ground at the first signs of infestation. But check the walls too: Mold appears as grey spots and delicate webbing. If you experience this, take down the humidity level, then consult an expert on how to get rid of the mold. And to avoid dangers and losses in the future, please share this article along with your own tips on art storage.