The importance of proper lighting for your art exhibit is second only to your pieces of art.  Without the proper lighting, your art work will not be viewed, observed, and interpreted the way you want others to understand and appreciate your creations.  The lighting you will use will depend on many different variables such as the specific pieces you are displaying, the effect you are trying to create, the availability of electricity, lighting, indoor, outdoor, time of day etc.

Below is a basic guide to the different types of lighting as it relates to the art exhibit world:

  1. Light Protection – Light from the sun and artificial light contain powerful waves of energy which may fade, diminish, and deteriorate the mediums and colors used for your creations.  Things to consider with light protection are:  luminous intensity, optical radiation, photochemical reactions, irradiance, spectral radiation, relative spectral sensitivity, effective threshold irradiation, damage potential.
  2. Room Lighting – Lighting in museums and galleries are made of up diffused and directional lighting.  A combination of the two will determine the balance and harmony of the intensity, harshness, and shadows cast by the art pieces.  This can be used to your advantage or disadvantage depending on the piece of art.  Wall art such as paintings and photographs mounted in frames will cast harsh and unattractive shadows if the directional lighting is too intense, but those same shadows can be very attractive for sculptures.
  3. Exhibit Lighting – Unique to exhibit lighting is the hard and sharp light edges from a close distance and is used to specifically highlight and accentuate a particular piece of art on display.  The lighting on the art can be from one single light source or multiple depending on how you want others to view and understand the piece.  One thing to understand is the direct lighting should be supplemented with softer room lighting to balance and harmonize the overall space.
  4. Diffuse Lighting – This is simply a lighting effect that does not cast shadows and is the opposite of exhibit lighting.  This is best used to illuminate zones and surfaces of objects with just the right intensity and temperature of light.  Diffused lighting requires light sources to be diffused from many different directions so that there is not one single identifiable source of light and this is how the possibility of no shadows is created.  With the light coming in many different directions the gallery will need to have adequate infrastructure to support the diffuse lighting technique.
  5. Directional Lighting – Different from exhibit lighting, directional lighting utilizes a light source that is further away and tends to illuminate a larger area with a single light, but multiple light sources are used for the effect.  The effect is similar to exhibit lighting in that it highlights certain aspects and can also cast calculated shadows.  Directional lighting is used for larger displays compared to exhibit lighting which is typically reserved for smaller displays.

The importance and significance of lighting is never missed by artists, but artists usually don’t appreciate the significance of lighting or the effort required to achieve the desired lighting.  Museums and art galleries usually have a lighting specialist on staff that understands the complete nature and possibility of exhibit lighting.  The Bishop Museum in Honolulu uses Kaneohe electricians for their in house exhibit lighting experts and can answer and advise on all topics of museum and exhibit lighting.

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