The Necessity of Archival Process


(Note: This article first appeared in Art Calendar.  Piece above is an example of carefully using incompatible metals–in this case stainless and Cor-Ten steel.  How?  They never actually touch.  Steve Richardson’s genius.) 

Basic Archival Process How many times have I had an artist enter my gallery who had done a great piece, but didn’t know the basics of archival processes?  Dozens. Maybe it was a framed etching, but backed by acidic cardboard.  Maybe it was an oil painting where the heavy texture, carelessly applied, would begin cracking in two years.  Maybe it was a sculpture composed of various metals that would begin corroding in five years because of metallic incompatibility.  Repeatedly I’ve seen instances of this, and couldn’t carry the works because I can’t sell art that is at risk for deterioration.

What happens if you don’t go pay attention to these details?  You’ll get a reputation for shoddy work.  Galleries will drop you.  Clients will drop you.  Clients may demand refunds.  Career on a downhill slide.

So yes, it’s important to understand archival process, though I realize it’s a little boring.  Is it complicated?  Not once you know the basics.  And very simply, here are a few of them.

–UV Glass for Works on Paper:  It’s your choice whether to use UV glass or not.  Sure it costs more, but you’re protecting the client’s investment, since they may hang it in a bright room (unless they live in England).  Regarding the additional cost, we just always add that into the retail price.  Why?  The client is paying you take care of their investment, which is how we always explain it.  –Works on Paper.  I know this seems obvious, but I often encounter it, so: always make sure that the image doesn’t touch the glass after framing, and that only acid-free materials are used.  If you’re a pastelist, I advise you apply fixative before framing, or flaking may result within a few years.

–Stretchers.  Whether you paint in oil or acrylic, please make sure that you use dried poplar–or some similar wood–for your stretchers.  Why?  I’ve seen painters use pine that they dig out of some bone heap, and it invariably warps as it dries.  Another solution is to buy pre-manufactured stretchers if you like standard sizes; there are many inexpensive resources for these.

–Varnishing Paintings.  Naturally varnish protects oil paintings against moisture and dirt.  If you like working with it, try to make sure it’s applied after the oil has cured.  If this means going to the client’s house, great: that opens the door to renewed contact, and possibly further acquisitions. 

–Metal Sculpture.  When you sculpt or install, please make sure that the metals you choose will not cause galvanic corrosion over time owing to incompatibility.  Hence you cannot mate aluminum to stainless steel, bronze to mild steel, aluminum to mild steel, etc.  Any metallurgist or metal supplier can advise as you.  Me?  I have a tendency to utilize some Missouri rednecks who do my fabricating–flawlessly–and don’t charge for advice, except the odd latte.  Yeah, rednecks drink lattes around here. 

–Warning Labels.  Believe it or not, clients still on occasion hang works in direct sunlight.  To help inform them, I advise you put a label on the back of any piece that can be damaged by UV rays, stating that the work should be hung in an appropriate location.  I realize this seems obvious, but not everyone gives thought to these issues.  Of course the flip side of the coin is tell them to hang everything in direct light; then maybe they’ll come back and buy a new collection in ten years.  But I don’t advise that approach.

As a gallery owner, I’ve never had a client complain about a piece, its assembly, or fragility.  This is because I advise my artists on approaches to take, if they haven’t considered same.  I mean an artist is so consumed with creation, that sometimes these details elude them.  But one reason I keep getting referrals to new clients, is because we pay attention to these details.  If you do this as well, your reputation for professionalism will only broaden.  That’s a fancy way of saying you’ll make more jack, and have more time for pursuing your passion.

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