How to light an art show

A lot of people have commented to me how good the show looks, and how great the paintings look in their space. One of the great things about the SW1 Gallery where Beyond The Wilderness is showing is that it is properly kitted out with lighting track.

If you’re showing work, then lighting can make all the difference. There’s nothing worse than having a piece of work on the wall that’s stuck in a dingy corner. The piece doesn’t get seen, and the artist gets offended.

The joy of the lighting track is how versatile it is. In this case, the track is made by ERCO. If the piece of art on the wall is not directly under the light, you can slide the button round on the side at the top of the light fitting, pull it out of the track, and move it somewhere better.

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Of course, the fitting itself pivots and tilts, so you can point it right at the work. It can be quite dramatic if you do that, but it does make the work look good.

At the SW1 Gallery, there are two types of light – spots and floods. The floodlighting (in this case the square ones) will light up the whole area that you are pointing it at. It diffuses the light over quite a wide area, so whilst the light is not intensely bright, you can give it a general flood of light that helps.

Spotlights concentrate the light in one particular place, which draws the eye to the work nicely.

If you look at the photo below, you can see how the spotlights light up the work nicely. For bigger works, you would probably want to put a few spotlights on different parts of the work, to make sure it is well lit-up, rather than just have one spot right on the middle.

The other thing about lighting track is that inside the track, there are 3 separate circuits. What this means is that you can basically have some lights on separately to others – and turn them on and off as you please. If you want to light up one side of the gallery one day and turn it off another day and light up the rest, then you can do so. Certain lights can be made to come on when you switch on Track 1, others on Track 2, and the rest on Track 3. You get the idea. To select the light to come on with a certain track, you have to twist the round button near the top which is mark “1”, “2” and “3”. Easy-peasy.

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In practise, every time I come to do one of these (it doesn’t seem to matter what gallery I work in), the switches seem to bear little or no relation to what tracks light up with which light switches, so you end up experimenting until you work it out!

The only thing you need to be careful of is that you don’t put all the lights on one track, which will overload the circuit.

It took me just over half a day to get it all looking how I wanted – up and down a very tall ladder. Make sure you allow enough time at the end when you’re hanging. Get someone else to sweep the floor/write labels/touch up the wall while you’re doing it.

Have fun!

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