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Art Museum Lighting

Apr 13, 2008
Art museum lighting represents a delicate balance between visibility and safe lighting levels. Lighting levels must directly correspond to the type of art being exhibited in order to properly showcase fine art. Natural light is generally not recommended as a source of art museum lighting. It contains harmful infrared heat and ultraviolet light waves that will damage a wide variety of paint types and canvases. Natural light is also very difficult to control.

A much better solution lies with using fixtures specifically designed for art museum picture lighting exhibitions. Almost all such fixture types offer a measure of protection against harmful light wavelengths and the ability to adjust luminance levels appropriate to interior architecture, exhibit requirements, and artistic genre at hand.

The following examines a few of the main benefits each type or fine art museum lighting fixture offers. Keep in mind that larger museums typically approach lighting design on a room-by-room basis and use more than one of these fixture types to create a custom, in-house system of specialized illumination.

Accent Lights

Most accent lights in art museums contain halogen lamps that have been specifically designed for the purposes of art lighting. Ultraviolet light has to be stripped from the light beam in order to make the light safe for the art. Also, some sort of adjustment mechanism must be in place in order to regulate levels of illumination. This is because each genre of art normally communicates its own unique set of values and contains its own unique messages, and light is critical to visually communicating these points of uniqueness.

Some accent lights resemble over the picture lights, although the base often attaches to the wall above the frame, and the arms are longer and more flexible than generic equivalents. This allows the lamp to be positioned at just the right distance from the picture in order to make the light fit the frame.

Accent lighting in art galleries and museums is also done with filtered spotlights that reside on or near the ceiling. These fixtures are often low voltage and create a less intense luminance that is highly effective for special effects or ambient lighting. This type of accent lighting is particularly effective in art museums featuring sculpture and three-dimensional abstract art. By supplementing primary lighting with ambient effects, art museum curators can avoid the "flattening" effect that too much direct light can have on a human figure or abstract piece.

Track Lights

Track lights hang suspended from rails that run parallel to the wall. Although they are visually obtrusive in the sense that they are clearly visible to the public, many art museums illuminate a variety of works with track lighting systems.

The greatest advantage that track lighting installations offer is the ability to match the number of lighting fixtures to the exact number of works of art. Because the fixtures can move along the rail, each track light can be aimed precisely at its chosen object for pinpoint lighting effect. We often see track lighting in art museums showcasing photography exhibits. Because such exhibits normally feature a number of works in a series, track lights allow for each photograph to be placed in its own individual light.

Recessed Lights

Recessed fixtures are a popular source of art museum lighting. One of the greatest advantages they offer is concealment. Unlike track lights, which hang suspended from the ceiling, recessed lighting fixtures reside on or within the ceiling itself. As such, they are difficult for the casual viewer to detect, and they can be used to light both art and sculpture from virtually any angle.

Recessed picture lighting in art museums commonly utilizes halogen lamps that produce a very bright, white light with superb color rendering capabilities. This light must be filtered to ensure it is free from ultraviolet radiation, and the use of dimmer switches to control lighting levels is generally recommended both as an aesthetic factor and a power saving feature.

Recessed lights are often used as accent lighting over sculpture and other three dimensional art forms, and they are also used extensively in lighting large paintings.

Art Projectors

Art projectors represent the most high-end of art museum lighting fixtures. Like recessed lights, many recessed lighting projectors such as the Phantom Contour assume a very unobtrusive position near the ceiling. Almost all projectors have advanced lens adjustment mechanisms, sophisticated light filters that strip the beam of harmful wavelengths, and built in dimmer controls that allow lighting levels to be adjusted appropriately to genre, style, and individual characteristics of a work of art.

The Phantom Contour Projector offers a number of advantages over competing projector models. It is smaller and therefore easier to conceal in more eclectic, formal art museums. Lighting controls on the Contour Projector are exceptionally user friendly and do not require a technician to adjust. A number of models are available specific to interior architecture, including retrofit models such as the RM Series Projector that do not require messy patching or painting.

Although Projectors such as the Phantom Contour cannot be used to provide all off the light in an art museum, they can be utilized to create magical lighting effects around keynote paintings, abstract pieces, and classical sculptures. The light beam itself that emanates from a Contour Projector is completely invisible from side angles. This creates a magical, lighted from within effect when the beam strikes the artwork, adding a three-dimensional effect to illumination and creating a complimentary aesthetic to the work itself.

Because art projectors can fit the light to the precise dimensions of a painting, and because they produce the safest form of UV and Infrared-free lighting, art museums frequently rely upon them to illuminate the most important and rare works of art on display.
About the Author
Phantom Lighting is a manufacturer of high end lighting projectors and linear strip display lighting fixtures. Phantom operates throughout North, Central, and South America through a network of agent representatives. Visit http://www.phantomlighting.com/art_museum_lighting.htm and http://www.phantomlighting.com/
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