How To Store Artwork: 8 Guidelines For Art Collectors


Whether you’re an experienced collector or just starting out, proper storage is key to keeping your investment safe. The problem is, there are different schools of thought and considerations when it comes to protecting your collection. Many art enthusiasts are left questioning how to store artwork.

To properly store artwork, it is crucial to protect the work from light, humidity, temperature fluctuation, airborne debris, pests, theft, and accidental damage. Climate control and pest services will avert environmental hazards. Proper positioning, packaging, cleaning, and insurance are essential.

If you want to maintain the value of your paintings, illustrations, photos, and drawings, we’ll need to examine many factors.

Couple removing wall painting having learned how to store artwork

Light

You want to choose a space where your artwork will avoid exposure to natural light sources like direct sunlight. Exposure to ultraviolet or UV light causes colors to fade over time. Your artwork should not be stored where it will be exposed to direct, indirect, or partial sunlight.

If you must store your artwork in a room where it can be exposed to sunlight, use protective UV glass to prevent damage. However, it is better to either box up or cover the art with a cloth when it is not on display.

Read More: 9 Tips On How To Light Wall Art [Advice For Collectors At Home]

Humidity

The moisture that comes with high humidity environments can cause mold and mildew to grow on artwork.

When photos are layered on each other, this humidity can be trapped between photographs, providing a place for mold to develop. Since pictures are composed of several layers of materials, growth can even occur between these layers, causing irreparable damage. When storing photos, use acid-free or glassine paper in between the images. Mold is tough, if not impossible, to remove, so prevention is the key.

Similarly, canvases and other paper artwork, when stacked together, offer ideal places for mildew, fungi, or other rotting growths to occur. Use padding or a painting rack to enable airflow between art to avert damage.

Wood surface mediums are particularly susceptible to humidity. The wood will start to expand in the humid air because it absorbs moisture. This expansion can, in some cases, cause the panel to warp, soften or break. Additionally, the humidity causes fungi to grow, which in turn causes the wood paneling to rot.

When a canvas is exposed to humid air, the canvas loosens and swells. But when exposed to dry air, the canvas goes back to its original size and tightens. So, the canvas moves a lot with the fluctuation of humidity. This oscillation can cause the paint to chip and flake off when the moisture changes too often over a long period of time.

If humidity fluctuations are a problem where you store your artwork, a climate control solution is necessary. An air conditioner or a dehumidifier will reduce humidity. While less common, a humidifier adds the correct moisture to air that is too dry.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends that

the range between 30 and 60% rh (at normal room temperatures) provides the best conditions [where] … the growth of bacteria and biological organisms and the speed at which chemical interactions occur are minimized.

ASHRAE Handbook – Chapter 22 Section 1

With this advice, avoid storing your artwork in locations that are not climate controlled. Basements and garages are not suitable locations to store art. If high humidity is particularly difficult to control, add silica packets to acid-free, archival boxed artwork. These silica packets absorb excess moisture and can most likely be found for free when purchasing articles of clothing like shoes or accessories like hand- or bookbags.

Temperature Fluctuations

Just how humidity level expanded and tightened canvases, so does temperature change. Heat makes organic surface mediums expand and then contract when temperatures get colder. This causes the piece to warp and the paint to crack.

Inorganic mediums like photographs also suffer from frequent temperature shifts. The layers of vintage photos can loosen when exposed to excessive heat.

Climate controlled storage facility

Again, climate-controlled storage is the solution to prevent damage from large temperature swings. Paintings and most artworks are best stored at 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit or 21-24 Celcius. Ensure that you keep this temperature whether you store your artwork at home or in a storage facility.

Airborne Debris

Airborne debris like household dust, grease, and pollutants can collect on artwork over time. Generally, these contaminants simply collect on art and can be easily cleaned.

Artwork protected by frames and glass prevents airborne debris from getting onto the work. Wall art that is not on display should be covered with a cloth or packed in an acid-free, archival storage box for protection.

Clean artwork every 1-2 years to prevent layers of airborne debris from forming. Do so with a dry microfiber cloth or soft, unused paintbrush to wipe away the dust and airborne debris. For framed artwork, use a soft, lint-free cloth to clean the frame and glass.

Read More: The Best Way To Clean A Painting + 5 Care Crucial Considerations

Warning:

All art should be kept away from the kitchen, which is the most common room in the house to produce airborne debris.

Pests

Pest control needs to be specific to the type of pests common to your area.

Professional protection can eliminate household pests. They might suggest changes in your household to make it harder for pests to enter your space. And if chemical pest control is needed, discuss with your technician any possible interaction with the type of piece you own.

Different art mediums attract varying types of pests.

Pests like rodents and bugs are usually after the wood panel or the wood canvas stretcher. You can protect the artwork from these pests by boxing them away. However, sometimes these pests find a way to enter sealed boxes. Inspect your stored artwork regularly to discover infestations. The sooner you find intrusions or damage to artwork, the less value is lost on beloved works. Remember that restoration services are expensive and cannot fix many pest-related damages.

Theft

There are over 5,600 burglaries every day in the United States according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

As a beginning art collector, you’ll reach a point when you look at your art purchases and realize that there’s a lot of (increasing) monetary value in your possession. Up to this point, you’ve depended on being present to guard your art investments and relied on your home’s security.

Physical Security

When your art collection is stored in your home, consider the value of adding a professionally monitored or self-monitored security system.

In the US, there are plenty of professionally monitored home security companies. There are nationwide providers like ADT and even local telecom companies offering services at a wide range of services and pricing.

Self-monitored or hybrid monitoring systems are more affordable on a monthly basis, offer better control of your monitoring needs, but do require some upfront costs to purchase equipment. Typically you deploy a central hub along with secondary or specialize sensors throughout your home. Various entry sensors, motion sensors, and glass-break sensors adapt to your location’s security needs.

Some common sense ways to prevent theft while you choose a security upgrade:

  • Display your collection out of sight from bypassers.
  • Secure entry points with quality door locks, secure hinges, and latch reinforcements
  • Avoid boasting about your art on social media or other public platforms

When not on display, consider placing your art collection in a suitable self storage unit. Make sure that the storage facility is not only climate-controlled but investigate the security measures and monitoring. Prioritize storage facilities with video surveillance, gated entry, and hinged locker doors.

Man pushing cart in self storage having learned how to store artwork

Insurance

Another type of security for your art collection is insurance for most beginning collectors. Homeowners’ insurance will cover damage to or loss of your personal property, including art. Contact your insurance company to have them review your policy to detail your current limits.

For high-value pieces or a collection, you may want to get a specialized policy rider or take out separate insurance to cover art. Specific scheduling or a dedicated policy will require additional documentation, high-resolution photos, and a professional appraisal for insurance or replacement cost. This moves your art out of your homeowner’s policy and into a separate “bucket” of coverage. Of course, look at the annual cost of the policy adjustments and make it’s worth it.

Homeowners’ insurance may cover personal property in a storage unit when your art is stored off-premises in non-exhibition situations. Generally, storage units do not include insurance but may require or offer separate insurance coverage to rent the storage unit. Discuss coverage options with your storage facility.

Disclaimer: We are not licensed, insurance professionals. Please contact your current insurance provider or a licensed insurance company in your area to discuss your particular circumstance and coverage requirements.

Storing NFT Artwork

One of the innovative uses of cryptocurrencies is in tokenizing digital or real-world art. A Non-Fungible Token is a unique, forgery-resistant contract stored on a blockchain, or distributed ledger, that proves ownership and secures the transfer of that ownership.

The Wall Street Journal does an outstanding job (in under 6 minutes) of explaining NFTs.

The digital or real-world art that the NFT represents is stored or displayed separately from the NFT. Think of holding an NFT as keeping a certificate of authenticity, provenance, and sales receipts secure and verifiably authentic.

Notes:

  • NFTs are also minted or created to prove ownership of collectibles, limited editions of music, and privileged access to experiences.
  • Homeowners’ insurance does not cover NFTs yet.
  • Offline hardware wallets are best to store NFTs. Take a look at LedgerTrezor, or SafePal
  • Learn before you buy!
Flooding caused a boat to rise to the second level of tudor-style house.

Damage

Fire, flood, or so-called Acts of God are often included as part of an insurance policy. But taking measures to prevent damage is always a less costly route.

Use these tips to avert loss of value in your art:

  • Handle art carefully
  • Invest in quality hanging or mounting hardware
  • Clean your art properly
  • Consider professional shipping or transport
  • Document and take multiple photos of your art
  • Protect your art with correct lighting
  • For heavy pieces, protect the edges with glassine lined cardboard or bubble wrap

Help your art bring emotion and enjoyment into your life.

Time

Unfortunately, time is an unavoidable hazard to your displayed or stored art.

Some mediums, such as watercolor and gouache, will naturally degrade over time. While other mediums like charcoal and graphite are more enduring. The longevity depends on the quality of the products used to create the art piece.

Taking some of the measures from this article will help your artwork endure time to its full potential.

Did we miss an art storage tip or topic? Contact us, and we’ll add your idea to this list along with a backlink.

Mandy Chu

Mandy and Mike are digital nomads and avid travelers. Art brings us joy whether in museums, galleries, or our home. Join us as we learn about the art world as down-to-earth admirers, collectors, and investors.

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