Osman Can Yerebakan
In the 1980s, Pictures Generation pioneer Sarah Charlesworth encouraged a collaboration with downtown art framer Yasuo Minagawa. Bordering his works with lacquer frames, the backgrounds of his photographs seemed to blend into their surroundings. The results were sharp, monochromatic sculptural works in which the images popped energetically out of their flatness through their perfectly matched frames.
from Minagawa New York Times The 2015 obituary highlighted the craftsman’s relationship with artists who visited his Great Jones Street store, Minagawa Art Lines, for custom framing, including, in addition to Charlesworth, Elizabeth Murray, Dan Colen and Jennifer Barlett . Today, contemporary artists such as Shilpa Gupta, Elad Lassry and Todd Gray continue to push two-dimensionality into a sculptural realm by incorporating frames into their photographic practices.
Art is made to be seen, so it’s no surprise that framing – along with effective lighting, smart curation and smart wall coloring – is of paramount importance to the presentation of a work. But while institutions and galleries have the professional knowledge and resources to confidently navigate the framing process, for collectors it can be overwhelming: an ideal frame should protect the art object while evoking a visual symphony with the work and its environment, while adapting to a collector’s budget. And, like any aesthetic industry, framing evolves over the decades and changes shape in response to different trends and needs.
Below are five tips to keep in mind the next time you frame a piece of art.
Find a framer who knows your material
“Rule number one: identify the artwork,” said Robert Benrimon of Skyframe, which has stores in Chelsea and New Jersey. It is important to find a framer who understands the monetary and intellectual value of the work, as well as its medium. This means that collectors might need to use several different framers, depending on the type of works that are in their collection: Framing a fragile Louise Bourgeois ink on 1950s paper is going to require a different approach than doing the same for a recent MFA the digital print edited by the graduates, and the insight the framers bring to the fields in which they work is invaluable.
Galleries and museums come back to established framers not only to benefit from their technical skills, but also for their knowledge on specific subjects. For example, Benrimon pointed out that “screen prints by Andy Warhol or KAWS are always very delicate”. Collectors should look for this level of expertise when looking for a framer – one of the reasons the 39-year-old shop owner has clients such as Gagosian and Staley-Wise Gallery.
Think about the relationship of art to the frame over time…
In addition to providing an aesthetic accent, the framing protects the art. Protection against UV rays and the sun, dust, physical contact and other external damage is in fact the main objective of any seasoned framer. “Look for an expert who offers conservation coaching,” said Daniel Beauchemin, CEO of Chelsea frames, which has been operating at the epicenter of the New York gallery circuit for the past few decades. “The conservation framework not only protects the art, but also ensures that the treatment is safely reversible – we need to protect the art from outside effects as well as from itself.”
This includes mounting the art to a surface without damaging its back and corners. “Cardboard leaks acid onto paper, so support the artwork with wood or acid-free cotton boards and avoid plastics,” Benrimon added. He also explained that in the editing process he uses everything from pocket corners to rice paper hinges to mulberry hinge paper, depending on the piece he is working with. An experienced framer will be able to give you recommendations and explain the differences between these different methods, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Haruo Kimura, who started his career at Minagawa and later opened his own frame shop in Brooklyn, Eastern Executives, noted that the protective quality of plexiglass is constantly improving. “I recommend Optium Museum Plexiglass for those who can afford the material,” he added. The anti-reflective and virtually invisible foil is a top choice among museums and high-level collectors. And while it may be more expensive upfront than more budget options, forward-looking framing helps ensure a damage-free lifespan for an artwork, which Kimura says “is a way to ensure that art will not diminish in value”.
…but work with framers who can make changes in the future if needed
Collectors should be sure to opt for a reversible frame when having one of their pieces worked. This allows the art to have a facelift down the road – as framing trends change or to complement pieces that are redecorated, for example – by giving it a new frame, and ensures that a work never is not damaged during the process.
And while it’s important to be proactive in asking for reversible options, there are likely to be instances where collectors need cropped work that hasn’t been treated with as much care in the past, as this either because a previous owner opted for a less-than-desirable frame or a frame is damaged. This means that it is crucial to work with coaches who are comfortable with the conservation elements of these more difficult cases.
For example, multiple framing of a work may result in a damaged spine, requiring loads of paper for conversation, or a framer may suggest updating the way a work is mounted or the glass used to cover it – what Benrimon calls “sunscreen for art”. — to better protect it. And when it comes to re-tensioning canvases, an important but crucial detail is to do so using your existing holes rather than drilling new ones.
Colors and materials are plentiful, so listen to what the art – and your framer – suggests
From organic wood shades such as maple, walnut and cherry, to the timeless sure-arms of black or white, or more experimental pastels, the color options are more plentiful than ever. “We have 10 shades of white,” Kimura said. And there are also many decisions to be made on the materials front.
Today, many carpenters are trying to move towards more sustainable materials and using wood that meets ethical sourcing standards endorsed by PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Metal frames also exist and chrome is gaining popularity as a nostalgic nod to the 1980s. With so much choice and the extended time spent at home due to the pandemic, Beauchemin noticed that now collectors “ take their time to really research different styles of framing in their home improvement projects.”
While all of these choices may seem daunting at first, a good framer will be keen to guide collectors to the options that best suit the artwork, complementing it instead of eclipsing it. “We should listen to the story that the artist has given us – we can’t tell a whole new one with the framing,” Beauchemin explained. “Our work can be a punctuation at work.” Customers can knock on his door with the vision of a yellow frame that would match the blue and yellow throw pillows on their couch.
But Beauchemin thinks it is crucial to intervene at this stage. “If the artist wanted more yellow, he would already have more in the work,” he explained. “Art should not become an element of interior design.” According to Benrimon, muted color palettes help achieve that humble effect: “Our goal is minimal interruption.” And, for Kimura, unless an artist approaches it with a specific view of custom framing that is part of the art itself, “frames should respect the art and almost disappear.”
Difficult art means difficult framing solutions, so use a pro
Contemporary art comes in many shapes, materials and sizes, which can require innovative thinking for framing. Cropping a mishandled or damaged piece of art can require the precision of a surgeon. Benrimon remembers cutting a zigzag wooden frame for a Warhol. According to Kimura, who has handled a part made from spiders’ nests before, fragile materials with moving and/or unstable parts are a major challenge. He also notices that artists are constantly expanding the scale at which they work, which leads to woodcutting challenges in his studio.
Of course, the more difficult framing jobs and the expertise to complete them will not be the cheapest option. On that front, Beauchemin said clients need to realize that they’re paying for premium service: “The client needs to understand that more complex, complex projects drive up the cost. But even for the simplest jobs, the cost pays dividends in the long run. A movie poster that costs a collector $15, he explained, “could become a collector’s item in a few decades… A $300 straight frame with a metal or wood frame for $20 a foot and some UV plexiglass can actually preserve this potential value. It’s best to do the framing – as with many things – the right way the first time.