Art Presentation – When Walls Have Meaning

art presentation

Art presentation, like other artistic expression, has become more experimental, more conceptual, more varied and more personal. Interior design has evolved to meet the emotional and intellectual needs of more educated and worldly clients by challenging convention in the use of space, materials, scale, color and texture. Personal and public spaces, like everything else, are becoming more interactive. Even traditional environments are filled with eclectic collections from family legacies, world travels and expressions of personal interest.

As an integral part of interior design, art presentation must work on three dimensions: respecting the art, accessorizing the setting and reflecting the importance of the art to the owner. Of these three, how the owner feels about the art is the driving force. Custom art presentation, which effectively balances all these considerations, requires an almost infinite assortment of profiles, finishes and design details.

The Importance of the Art

In cases where the art is seen primarily as an investment, the presentation would be done to preserve and enhance its monetary value. In that case, archival presentation, conserving historic elements where possible, or using period-appropriate, formal presentation techniques would be a likely solution.

However, most important art is not valued primarily as an investment. Most art is used to set a tone, and express ideas and feelings that are specific to the owner. Whether it is to evoke a comforting nostalgia, ritualize an event, impart energy or serenity, playfulness, humor, irony, worldly sophistication, personal style or a simple appreciation of beauty, the presentation can greatly enhance that aspect of the artwork that is important to the owner. Only when the art presentation reinforces the emotional and intellectual relationship between the owner and the art does the presentation ‘feel right.’

Accessorizing the Setting

Where is the art to be displayed and how is it used? Is it in an intimate, personal space? Or will it be displayed in a formal, public one? Is the art to be a central focus, independently adding to the emotional and intellectual quality or the space? Or is it primarily to support the design idea?

Making appropriate framing and art presentation choices requires a close partnership with the designer. Site visits can help the art presenter understand the genre, and get accurate field measurements. Custom finish samples can be prepared to take into the setting or to coordinate with other suppliers. Custom profiles can be created to reference an important shape or pattern. Custom mirror engraving and silvering can be used to help the designer achieve a particular look or mood. Custom hanging methods, including an analysis of the appropriate angle at which to hang, lean or cant the art off the wall can all influence the impact of the art. For three-dimensional works, cabinet or pedestal designs which complement the art and the setting require the design and fabrication skills of a fine cabinetmaker. The art of presentation is doing whatever it takes to get the details right.

With so many design rules being broken for interest and effect, understanding the underlying design principle for the space in which the artwork will reside is essential for satisfying art presentation. One of the more common design challenges is incorporating contemporary art in a traditional setting, or classic art in a contemporary setting. Frames and presentation treatment which make that transition comfortable frequently have ambiguous reference to period design rendered with an unusual finish or a change in scale. The Tulip frame, shown right, combines sleek lines and a silver finish common in contemporary design, with a fluid carved corner detail more common to Art Nouveau. It is appropriate in traditional as well as contemporary settings, used as a mirror or as a complement to art.

Another common role for art is to add drama and formality to an ‘industrial’ or high tech setting where the finish materials are exposed brick, brushed, rusted or painted steel, or hewn beam. ‘Organic’ finishes over profiles with strong, architectural and graphic lines are a new formal language for art presentation. For example, the Deco Step frame, shown right, combines geometric forms frequently found in Art Deco design and architecture. The 12K white-gold finish is toned to gives it an organic texture unusual in fine finishes, with the fleeting impression of brushed steel.

The quality of light within the space is also an important consideration. Should UV protective glass be used? Is an independent light source required?

Respecting the Art

After understanding the emotional and physical context for the art, the final presentation decisions are driven by the art itself. Appropriate presentation means respecting the kind and level of detail, the strength of line, the color palette, the subject matter and the materials used.

Effective presentation of artwork is as much an art as the creation of the art itself. A working knowledge of art history gives the art presenter a context which makes “respecting the art” possible. The eclectic nature of contemporary design requires a balance between convention and novelty. Having trained artists and art historians on staff with expertise in contemporary as well as classical art gives designers the creative resources to break “new ground” in the world of design with confidence.