On Collecting Print

This special resource segment takes the form of a series of conversations with print specialists, conservators, advisors and consultants, highlighting the value of collecting fine prints and the importance of collection care.

We are delighted to introduce our first conversation for the inaugural edition of Printmakers’ Assembly – an insightful interview with Kong Yi Ling, Assistant Manager (Registrar & Sales) at STPI, which provides useful, professional tips on how to care for and look after fine prints.

Collecting Concerns

What are some main concerns or misgivings people often have towards collecting and caring for prints?

That it is difficult to keep and preserve them in Singapore’s climate! While we agree that some efforts are needed to build a suitable condition to store or display artworks, once you have these conditions in place, it is simply a matter of maintenance. One of the most important advice I can give is – don’t shock your artwork, something I can explain later in the conversation.

Museum Grade

The term “museum grade” is often thrown around in discussions on quality framing. What makes a framing condition “museum grade”? Should a particular type of framing be used for fine prints?

Museum grade or museum standard framing is the highest standard of framing that framers can achieve; in normal conditions, such a protection should last about 30 – 35 years. There is a long list of requirements to check off, before we can qualify a certain framing as museum standard. But some fundamental and important requirements are:

  • The framing process must be 100% reversible – this means the artwork can be returned to its original form before framing.
  • Only museum and conservation standard materials are used to build the frame package. These materials include acid-free, pH-neutral, 100% cotton matboards, and many more. Good quality and properly treated wood are used in the case of building a wooden frame.
  • The glazing of the frame – its clear protection layer, usually glass or UV-filtering acrylic – should not touch the artwork, and the choice of glazing should always be at least 90% UV-protected to block out harmful rays.

The list to meet museum standard framing is a long one; if you have any questions, it is important to check in with your appointed framers and better understand how they build their frame package to carefully house your artwork.

At STPI, we strongly encourage framing your artworks – be they fine prints, paintings, drawings, works on paper – in museum grade frames. It is an important step in ensuring your cherished collection lasts!

Hanging & Display

What should we think about when considering hanging or display solutions for prints on paper?

When we talk about hanging and display, we must always consider the context of the artwork. Is the artwork intended to be framed? Should there be extra care towards complementing its composition? Should it be on a wall, or resting on a pedestal? The answers to these concerns are always subjective, and we aim to understand them from the perspective of the artist/s, and their intention for the presentation of their works. If the artist has a preference, we make it a point to work closely with them on decisions of hanging and display.

Before you hang or display works, always scan for any potential danger – firstly to the viewer, then to the artwork. Danger can manifest in many forms: insufficient viewing and walking space around the work, weak holding strength of walls, the wrong screws… these are crucial points to think about prior to hanging.

Local Climate

In a tropical climate like Singapore, what are some key environmental factors that may affect the condition of prints over time? What are some tips to better preserve the quality of these works?

The biggest challenge to preserve artworks in Singapore is threefold: our country’s humidity, its high rainfall, and the sun. These three factors, and airborne pollutants, can easily contribute to an ideal environment for mould to grow if left unmonitored. That sounds like we shouldn’t even buy art in Singapore! But rest assured that if you conscientiously prepare suitable conditions, collecting art is not an issue.

You must be wondering – what exactly is an ideal and optimum environment, and can I achieve it? If I can’t, should I not collect art? With some of these concerns in mind, I’ve put together some quick points to clarify things further:

Temperature

  • Optimum Setting: maintained between 21 – 24 (69.8 – 75.2℉)
  • Best Alternative: This is almost impossible in Singapore, unless the air conditioning runs 24/7 at this temperature. So, what next? Choose a location that is well-ventilated – ensure to avoid creating a “room-oven”, which will cause the temperature to rise and “bake” the artworks.

Light

  • Do not display or store the artwork under consistent and direct sunlight or light. All light sources must be UV-filtered – such a filter can be introduced with the right choice of window films and indoor lighting. Remember – damages caused by UV light are irreversible, and we must do our best to protect the artwork against these harmful UV rays.

Storage

  • Store and display the artwork in a dry place, away from any water source.

Humidity

  • Optimum Setting: Relative Humidity Level of 55%, +/- 5%
  • Best Alternative: Humidity is an important factor in the preservation of artworks, but why is it lower on the list compared to the others? Well, Singapore’s humidity can go from as low as 60% to as high as 100%. There are many contributing factors to high humidity but if you have met the above conditions, you have already set the stage to minimise the humidity level in your location. If your humidity level still fluctuates consistently, we recommend investing in a good humidifier to help maintain humidity!

Framing

  • Let’s not compromise on this – museum standard framing provides additional protection against the erratic climate of Singapore and airborne pollutants, and we should always frame in this manner where possible. Do not unframe an artwork without consulting your gallery/framer – you may damage the integrity of the artwork without realizing!

Cleaning

  • We recommend investing in a soft cleaning brush and cloth, to clean your artworks and frames gently and regularly. Airborne pollutants and dust are food for mould and promote damages to your artworks!

A very, very key thing to note is – avoid shocking your artwork by subjecting it to sudden and extreme climate or environmental changes. Just like living organisms, artworks need to acclimatise to changes in their environment. A sudden exposure to a different environment may cause incidental damages that you may be unaware of – like the cracking of pigments, or the activation of previously dormant mould. These are damages that are not visible to the naked, untrained eye, and by the time they become visible, they usually require prompt conservation intervention. Consistency in environment should not be overlooked – it will help to preserve and extend the lifespan of your artworks in the long run.

Handling with Care

Are there other important things to note when thinking about handling or caring for works on paper?

If you are handling unframed works on paper, wear clean gloves! If you don’t have gloves, wash your hands thoroughly, in the same manner you would during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. A clean pair of hands, with gloves, is the first step to handling any work, be they on paper or of other media. We don’t want to transfer any form of pollutants onto the artwork that will promote the growth of mould.

Packing Advice

In rotating displays, some collectors move their works between sites, perhaps from the home to the office. How would you advise for prints to be safely and effectively packed and prepared for transportation? What should one look out for in the method and material used by art handling companies?

Always aim to protect your artworks, even if you don’t have the correct materials. The risk of damage in transporting an artwork without the slightest form of protection is always higher. Where possible, the material that touches the immediate surface of the artworks should be acid-free in nature, to minimise the chances of foxing (yellow spots) due to the acidity of materials. If possible, transport of artworks should be on air-conditioned vehicles/trucks to minimise the change in temperature from location to location.

Art-handling companies in Singapore use acid-free materials, so if you hire them, you shouldn’t have to worry about that. Always discuss the packing method with the crew before execution, so that you are comfortable and assured of the process. If you are not satisfied, do voice your concerns, so they can propose other effective methods for your consideration.

There may be differences in packing methods, depending on your purpose. If the packing is for transport only, remember to unpack upon arrival and check the condition of the artwork. If you are packing an artwork for long-term storage purposes, there are usually more layers to the packing for more durable protection. Remember to convey your purpose clearly to your art-handlers.

Lastly, always make sure your artwork is insured, and that the insurance covers the packing and transit of the artworks! Collecting prints is a wonderful way of enhancing your life and living environment, and I hope these tips will give you the confidence and help to care for the pieces you love.