Monday, January 15, 2007

Gallery Lighting

Before we opened in our new location last March, I had spent a ridiclous amount of time and energy and (given how it didn't quite work out as planned) too much money on trying to design a lighting system. My goal was to create an even lighting throughout the gallery, using florescents, but combine the right combination of temperatures in the bulbs to keep it from feeling arctic. Like a growing number of gallerists apparently do, I like the idea of "lighting the space, not the invidiual works." Philosophically, it feels more honest than the theatrical effect too often created by the systems of individual spot and flood lights galleries have traditionally used.

But, after visiting a half dozen lighting stores, spending hours online, and taking armfuls of bulbs back and forth from the gallery to the stores, again and again, we decided to go with the best overall effect we could get in the space with a series of4 foot florescents, one blueish and the other sort of yellowish, which...duh...resulted in a dull greenish gray. We lived with this flat unflattering lighting for about a week into the first exhibition before turning on the spots we had also bought (not having enough faith that we had gotten it right, I guess). The exhibition looked so, so much better for it.

Still, when I see the overall even lighting in other galleries (those who've done it well, that is), I want to try again. One space that's done an excellent job, IMO, is Casey Kaplan on 21st street. And yet, while praising it to a group of friends visting the gallery recently, the artists among us were not convinced. Their reasons ranged from not liking how people looked under that light to asking what about work, like some sculpture, that incorporates shadows. I personally don't care about the former concern, but the latter one is a reasonable consideration. Having both options available does seem the best solution, perhaps, but...human nature and tradition being what they are, I imagine some artists will be tempted to invent elaborate rationales for why the spots and floods are essential to their particular exhibition.

What I'm saying, I guess, is the difference of opinion here seems to fall mostly along the line of gallerist vs. artists. So I'm curious if there are artists who prefer allover lighting, gallerists who also hate it, others who have an opinion one way or the other, or do most people not notice either way?

23 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

this issue came up a lot recently with the new damelio terras lighting, which some artists hated and some loved, the last show of joanne greenbaums paintings was very bright, some people did not like it, mostly artists commented on that, but like the casey kaplan space really good for seeing the work,lighting really really makes a difference.

1/15/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger cadmiumredlite said...

As a painter i prefer a bright white light, i dont like spots or a darkened room, i love the flourescent lighting of european galleries best.

1/15/2007 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

besides the type of light its also about the bulb. different manufacturers of same type bulbs produce different quality and color of light. with bulbs always go top end.

1/15/2007 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've researched lighting a fair bit and I'm surprised you, as a professional, Ed, would have trouble with this. Proof that lighting is tricky, I guess.

These days I'm always a bit thrown off when I see a show using spots on the work. Almost every gallery I go to is using diffuse room light. That's what I've come to expect. My experience with spots is that they generally leave some parts of the work in shadow, especially if the work is large; it's virtually impossible to light a large work evenly. I figure, in museums, they do this (with dimmer lights than usual) to preserve the work. In galleries it's distracting. My eyes start to unfocus when the light's too dim.

I really like going to, for example, McKenzie Fine Art in the day. They have so much natural light there with their big windows, everything looks great.

There are plenty of daylight balance fluorescents out there. Some are a bit expensive. And I've heard good things about Ott Lite bulbs. Seems to me it's possible to balance the light properly to get good colors all around. Maybe if the people look bad, it's because they need to get out in the sun more often.

1/15/2007 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate D'Amelio Terras new lighting/lamps and the show by J. Greenboum looked terrible because of it. Flat, flat, and dead...the paintings looked so flat it was embarrasing. More important you are so unconfortable that most people leave the room in a few minutes. Not good if you know what I mean. As a matter of fact when I was there a collector left the room in a rush and the dealers had to talk to him at the entrance.

Don't go there...

mls

1/15/2007 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

If only you could use natural light. It truely can't be improved on.

1/15/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Scale of the work should factor in. Small works often need a spot to prevent them from getting lost. But overall, I prefer diffuse light mixed with natural. Even that, though, depends upon where you want the work placed. I do my work for homes so I work on them with natural, incandescent and fluorescent. That way I know what they look like in all situations. Some colors are really severely impacted by the kind of light, as you are well aware.

1/15/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous mark dixon said...

I am a painter and do prefer 'all over lighting'. I do not like, however, the quality of fluorescent light. When I light my show (with incandescents) I like to light the wall before installing the paintings. This way I can light the walls evenly before hanging the paintings. What I really do not like is when paintings are 'spot' lit - it creates a strange drama in my opinion.
Cheers from Montreal,
Mark

1/15/2007 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i thought the damelio terras show was so beautiful and clean, they seem to change the lights with each show depending onthe work,there is a group show there now, different lights altogether. the small space up front has the brights this time... in the end, natural light is the best, think DIA BEACON on a sunny day.

1/15/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I don't know how you can overlook the vibration in fluorescent lighting. It gives me a headache. This trend hasn't hit here in LA yet, though I don't go to a lot of the big shot galleries very often. I can only think of one gallery that has it and it is so annoying.

My guess is that, to do it right costs a ton of money. So it becomes a status symbol and then compulsory if you want to be on the leading edge.

In LA the best, really newest, work is shown in galleries run by artists on a very tight budget. This has lead to a DIY look that has become chic in its own way.

If you want to know what is done when money is no object and the merch looking absolutely the best is a high priority go to high end grocery stores and look at the lighting above the produce section. (do you have high end grocery in NY?) You will see that they use a combination of fluorescent and filament bulbs. the tubes flood the store with light and the filament bulbs give everything a healthy glow (and compensate for the annoying vibration)

Fluorescent bulbs turn on and off hundreds of times a minute. You may not notice overtly, but the reptile part of your brain hates it. It seems to me this trend is just like what is now called 'conceptual art.' The appeal is all in your head.

1/15/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Noddy Turnell said...

make sure the people look good don't worry about the art. if the people dont feel good about themselves they will project that feeling on to the art, space, gallerist, and anyone else nearby. plenty of wine, a soft chair or two, calming music, valium.

I remember the muzac company created reels of music designed for restaurants to keep the turnover up. At first it seemed inviting but then you couldn't wait to leave. i've experienced more galleries than not that seem have taken their cue from that.

1/15/2007 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I agree with the above post. If viewers feel good, this travels elsewhere. It's like those McNally restaurants: everyone looks good in that light and people didn't notice (or care) that the menu never changed from restaurant to restaurant.

But my favorite kind of art light is museum ancient-artifact light: making the art work look like the light source. I don't know how they do it, but it always feels good.

1/15/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Christo Johnpherson said...

The best lit gallery spaces I've encountered usually maybe always incorporate some natural light. Since this isn't always available including in this case, I find emulating what is best about natural lighting is what to strive for, that is light being bright while still being as indirect as possible (spots are often too harsh and impose directional cues on eye that were not intended by the artist.) The ideal is difficult to achieve I guess that's obvious but I too personally think florescent in need some warming up.

1/15/2007 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Christo Johnpherson said...

It may seem frivolous but if people are feeling they look bad in certain lighting it may effect there over experience in the gallery so maybe it shouldn't be completely dismissed. One of my all time favorite spaces was the old Soho location of Pace/Wildenstein, I in fact remember the feeling of being in the space as much if not more than any particular show there and I particularly recall that folks just looked really good in there. What I don't recall off hand is how much or if any natural light was available. Still I remembering the lighting being rich and warm and I believe what contributed to this environment was the floor color. I see a light cream color, I may be wrong but I believe it was a pale, natural finish wood floor. Nonetheless, having done some house painting and interior decoration work, this type of finish always warms up cool lighting. Maybe if you find the florescent lighting too cool you can adjust this by painting the (concrete?) floors a lighter, slightly warmer color?

1/15/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I prefer diffuse lighting over spots for paintings.

All fluorescent bulbs are not the same.
There is an industry rating factor called the CRI (color rendition index), 100 is equivalent to daylight. The differences seem to be a function of the phosphors and the gas inside the tubes. As you would expect, the bulbs with the better CRI index cost more.

Most consumer fluorescent tubes have a CRI around 60.
GE makes a bulb called the Chroma 50 with a CRI 90.
These are generally available (Grainger stocks them)

For a specialty fluorescent bulb with a very high CRI at a reasonable cost try, the Philips, TL950 series which is 5000 K & has a 98CRI.

The 5000K number is the color temperature, an incandescent is probably somewhere around 3000k (yellow), photo/print proofing standard is 5000K daylight is up around 9000K (bluish).

The CRI number has more to do with the overall color spectrum of the bulbs. Most fluorescents have very spikey color spots, greenish, pinkish, bluish or a combo with little in-between which gives them the ghoulish look. The high CRI bulbs still have the spikes but the rest of the spectrum is filled in better. They make the people look better too.

1/15/2007 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Bert Green said...

Ed, I faced the exact same situation when I opened my gallery in 2004. We debated fluorescent versus tungsten or halogen, with the intent to create the "wash" of light rather than specific lighting for specific works. Ultimately, it seemed that fluorescent was not the best option because it was not flexible enough (there might be certain circumstances where you might want to have spot lighting or rather dark conditions); we would then have to install both systems to have the greatest flexibility.

We ended up installing only a halogen track system. Just as with fluorescent, there are many options for bulbs, and I have found that there are ways to create the "wash" of light as well as to allow for spot lighting. The distance and angle of the bulb from the artwork is an important factor. Additionally, artworks lit by tungsten light most closely match the conditions that collectors might display their work.

Warmer light compliments skin tones better because skin is mostly red, and yellow light compliments it. Light that is full spectrum leans more towards blue, which is colder and more color accurate, but not as pleasing to the skin.

In my discussions with many European gallerists, it seems that the trend towards fluorescent is based mainly in considerations of the cost of electric power over the aesthetics.

1/15/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks to everyone for the excellent info and advice (especially George...I'm printing out your comment for my next trip to buy lighting).

Galleries with bigger budgets, of course, hire lighting designers, but I'm inspired to give this another go, now that I have this feedback.

thanks again.
e

1/15/2007 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my 2 cents...diffused light...I love the look of halogen

1/15/2007 03:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a painter who often uses black backgrounds i dont like spots, or fluroecents or however its spelled. i've had shows in spaces with tonnes of windows, and have had them turn of the lights altogether on sunny days.
i also had a show once with lamps in it, like men's den room lamps.
depends on the work, the ideas behind the work, the ego of the artists, and the insecurities of the collectors.
i don't think there is ever really a standard mode than can be employed, but if there was i think most artists at least would prefer subtle diffused light that wasn't noticeable for the most part.
only julian schnabel wants racist dallas police cop spotlights on his paintings.

1/15/2007 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim sez:
I don't know how you can overlook the vibration in fluorescent lighting. It gives me a headache.

Some people are more sensitive to it than others. It also depends on the bulb and the fixture. I mean, the rate of cycling is the same, but it can be less noticeable.

1/15/2007 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous bradc said...

What is everyone's feelings about Solux bulbs?
They are full reasonably full spectrum, but
with a CRI of 98ish they are a bit "blue".

I have no connection with them, but for
precise color rendition, I like my work
on FujiFlex Crystal Archive lit by them.

http://www.solux.net/

1/16/2007 12:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Barry said...

I might add to George's information that in addition to the high CRI lamps, one should specify fluorescent fixtures with electronic ballasts, which compensate for and pretty much eliminate the 60 cycle hum or flitter that older ballasts caused. A further step up - at least in flexibility - would be to match ballasts with a fluorescent dimming system. To do that one needs to order the rheostats with the ballasts for the particular fluorescent lamps one is using. A good commercial lighting outlet i.e. one catering to contractors, is a font of information.Most track manufacturers have good fluorescent fixtures that are aimable - I know that Halo, for instance has a variety a track heads with mirrored backing to flood a wall surface.

1/16/2007 01:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diffuse room lighting sounds novel to me. Perhaps what would be best for photographing the work should also be best for viewing. Not easily achieved though as gallery lighting is from the top down. Interesting to see works created in natural light viewed at night under artificial conditions. The work should determine the lighting. If your space is after a mood better stick with works that fit into the schema.

1/18/2007 05:29:00 PM  

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