January 10th, 2010

So, you fell in love with a new contemporary piece and have brought it home to shine on your wall. What are some things that you can do to protect the value of your work? Artwork should be properly maintained; as new collectors we are a trustee of the artist’s work and must respect the pleasure that they give us in out homes. Think of the future generations who will enjoy the artwork! Paintings and sculpture are, unfortunately, often neglected and improperly maintained. Paintings can lose their vibrancy of color, develop cracking or yellowing, and all because of improper care. But it’s easy to do the right thing!

Kirk Tatom, “Near the Sea,” Oil, 2010

How will you make sure that this piece lasts for many lifetimes in your home? What are some precautions you can take to enrich the value of the work? I’ve put together a few tips for collectors, below.

  • Paintings should never be displayed in direct sunlight or near a heat register. Some artworks do better in a moist environment than others. I would never recommend a watercolor piece for a bathroom, but I have many satisfied clients with oil paintings and encaustic works above their bathtubs. Bronze collectors should also be cautioned against placing their pieces in place with high humidity and should paste-wax their pieces each year to prevent tarnish and patina changes. Some patination is natural and desirable, and most works suited for the out-of-doors will do just fine in a moist environment with just a little care and protection.
  • Paintings by contemporary artists (living and working in our time) are in most cases protected by a seal of “re-touch” varnish, which is only a light varnish that will not stand the test of time and deterioration. After one year, a new permanent application of varnish is required. The type of varnish to be applied at this point is debatable, but a 50/50 mixture of matte and gloss varnish is compatible with retouch varnish, and removable if needed. Always remove your painting from the frame before applying the varnish and lay it flat under even lighting for best application. Apply the varnish with horizontal strokes, in an even manner and not too thickly, and allow the painting to dry for up to 24 hours before replacing it in its frame. Of course, if you are uncomfortable with this process, hire a professional or ask your gallery for a recommendation!
  • Every six months or so, take a dry cloth to your paintings to avoid excess dust and grime buildup. Never apply a product like Pledge to your frames, but dry dust those as well. I’ve assisted a few collectors with serious grime on their paintings, and have had great results; if the artist applies the right varnish to the painting, everything from dirt to dog hair can be washed off with a mild soap (like Simple Green) and the painting will look good as new. (Another option: don’t let your dogs rub up against your fine oil paintings!)
  • Your artwork should always be added to your homeowner’s insurance policy, within the year of acquisition. Ask your gallery for a fine art evaluation or get a formal appraisal from a reputable appraiser. Keep records of the artist’s biography and all paperwork with the painting in a safe place. Some clients like to tape their documents to the backs of their fine art, but I discourage this practice. Tape can be quite detrimental to frames, boards, and canvas and avoid adding stickers, tape, or other gummy products to the backs of your artworks.