A selection, collection of framed photographs in white square frames. H&G 06/2008 pub orig
"The typical UAE villa or apartment decor and light lend themselves to white framing that also really enhances contemporary artwork," says Rebecca Crow, the manager of Showcase Gallery. Tom Leighton /Show more

The experts' guide to hanging art

There is no accounting for taste. Ask any of the region's framing specialists what their most bizarre commissions have been and the answers range from the sentimental to the strange.

"The most unusual thing I've framed is a large piece of leather over one metre in length with calligraphy on it," says Teresa Godlewska of Tarmeem Gallery. "I had to make it sit completely flat on an acrylic background and float suspended on a wall. It was definitely a challenge but the end result looked stunning."

Sharon Harvey, the owner of Showcase Gallery, says the most unusual request she received was to frame a sweat-soaked T-shirt belonging to the Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. "He threw his T-shirt into the audience at the end of his Abu Dhabi concert and one fan wanted it framed," she explains. "It wasn't a particularly pleasant scent but the fan was thrilled."

On a more sombre note, Svetlana Kushova of Pro Art Gallery had to frame a lock of hair and a coffin hinge, both belonging to a child who had died at birth.

Rebecca Crow, the manager of Showcase Gallery, recently framed a blowpipe, but admits a Picasso turned up one day, as did a painting that was subsequently sold at auction for several million dollars.

Framing is an interesting job, requiring specialist training and an eye for detail. Rebecca worked at the oldest gallery in London, The Fine Art Society, while the veteran art consultant Teresa Godlweska trained for three years at the Regent Academy of Fine Arts in London before returning to Dubai to open her own gallery. In the course of her career (she's 80 and her expertise is still in demand), she has constantly explained that framing is the sum of its parts: the mount, the glass and the frame.

Svetlana has honed her expertise with a lot of self-study and hands-on experience at Pro Art Gallery. She believes knowledge and an understanding of art history will take you a long way in the business.

Most framing requests taken to galleries are for personal photographs, souvenir artwork or prints. They are usually the finishing touches to a decor scheme, but should not be overlooked as any less important. A good frame can make or break not only an artwork but also a room layout, especially if the hanging height, arrangement and type of frame are wrong.

"The typical UAE villa or apartment decor and light lend themselves to white framing that also really enhances contemporary artwork," Rebecca says. "The look is modern, clean and fresh and never detracts from the art, which is the most important factor in framing."

A frame is to an artwork what a pair of shoes is to an outfit; get it wrong and you spoil the overall look. "Sometimes people bring me an artwork and are alarmed that they have to pay more for the frame than they did for the original work. But a beautiful frame is the choice you make to complement and enhance the picture," Teresa says.

As with art, the rule of thumb for frames is never to buy one to match your sofa. "It's a rookie mistake," says Teresa. "In the course of time you may repaint, restyle and change the furniture in your room but the picture will always be the same."

A good frame, believes Rebecca, should reflect the size and the medium of its content. "So a three-metre-length work needs a substantial frame to hold glass or mounting. If a frame enhances an artwork, lets it breathe and shows it to its best advantage, then it has done its job. The frame at its most basic is a means to getting the artwork on the wall."

But where to start, especially when the vogue for floating images, shadow boxes and Perspex can confuse the uninitiated?

"I've seen a huge increase in the three-dimensional style frames," says Svetlana, who adheres to the belief that not everything has to be reframed - or framed at all. "Honesty is the best policy with clients, I find; I only reframe artwork if it is necessary."

The style of frame you select generally depends on the genre of art you've bought. If you happen to have an old master at home, it should be in a period frame, which will set you back as much as Dh250,000, if not more. Generally, contemporary art is best left unframed but should be stretched properly and mounted on hardwood. "I've seen Picassos framed in the most simple contemporary frames," says Rebecca, "and also the most ornate and decorative mouldings dating back from his early periods. The quality of the old frames is wonderful and often adds to the visual value of the world, but Picasso needs no added value, just quality archive materials."

Once framing is selected, placement on the wall can pose problems. "Common sense is usually your best guide," says Rebecca. "A subtle watercolour should be hung at eye level, a large abstract canvas at head height because it may be intended only for distance viewing."

People have a tendency to hang things too high on a wall. If you're decorating a dining room, make sure that seated diners can see the paintings at eye level. In a hallway, art is viewed standing up, so it can be higher. A rule of thumb is about 20cm above sofa height, believes the creative team at The One. If in doubt, apply the old interior design "rule of three" for compiling images on a wall or for styling accessories.

The salon hanging style (covering every square inch of wall space with art) that became popular in the 19th century can accentuate a studious, eclectic design scheme. If you want a "less is more" approach, hang similarly sized works and level them either at the top or the bottom of the frame, with no variation.

But as Teresa points out, "framing is a very personal choice. It's like choosing your clothes. I can guide, but ultimately not decide for you. Two identical pictures framed for two different people will look different. It does not mean that either of the paintings is framed wrongly. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder."

For more information, contact Tarmeem Gallery, 04 344 9207; Showcase Gallery, 04 348 8797, or Pro Art Gallery, 04 345 0900

Framing tips

1. Never put glass over canvas - it has to breathe.

2. Sketches, illustrations and posters look best framed with no mount.

3. Lithographs, limited-edition prints, watercolours and pastels always look good in a double mount in a single or double line or a line wash.

4. For black and white drawings or photos, use a simple, black matte frame to ensure attention remains on the images.

5. Matching frames can pull together unrelated images.

6. Photographs are best in a single mount and simple frame.

7. Collectables and memorabilia are often best displayed in shadow boxes.

8. Don't hang pictures in a fluctuating environment. Humidity causes stress to canvas and paper.

9. Use acid-free materials and mount to prevent discolouration and damage of the artwork.

10. Don't direct spotlights onto glass; picture lighting is best and can be fixed to a frame or bought from a reputable gallery.

Hanging tips

1. If you're hanging a group of different-sized images, plan the layout beforehand. Make a paper template of each frame and lay it on the floor or tape it to the wall. Aim to leave a 5cm gap between large frames and 3.5cm gap between smaller ones.

2. To create a striking focal point in a room, hang equally sized images in a grid (a group of four to nine works best). Using paper templates as a guide will help make this easier. For this look it's essential that each frame is level, so use two hooks per frame.

3. Don't hang things too high on a wall. Aim for 20cm above a sofa, and for head height on landings or in hallways, where you will be viewing the image standing up.

4. If you're hanging frames in a row, three is the magic number.

5. You can find space to display your art even in the tiniest apartment. Look for redundant wall space to the side of a door - a great place for a vertical gallery - or arrange smaller pictures across the top of a door.

6. The hard concrete walls of some villas and apartments can make hanging pictures difficult. If this is the case in your home, choose large, informal pieces and prop them against a wall. They can look just as striking.

7. Don't display any valuable pictures in direct sunlight.


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