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Last updated: March 06, 2020

How to store artwork properly

Curators have a responsibility to display paintings and works on paper in ways that align with their mission and public demand. Sometimes, though, pieces you would expect to be accessible for viewing are not available. The reasons why can vary, but common ones include:

  • Too large or sensitive to light.
  • Too brittle, discolored, or stained to put on view.
  • Too delicate or valuable to risk damage while on display.
  • Limited space.

mobile art storage racksWhen this happens, the care team must know how to store artwork properly, so the piece does not sustain permanent damage. In addition to the right techniques, we will discuss safe storage preparation, tips, and solutions. Topics of proper art storage systems in this article include shelves, cabinets, carts, pull-out display panels, and bulk racks that can streamline the process. All have efficient capacity to save gallery space while keeping paintings safe and organized. Therefore, valuable collections will have a longer lifespan and thus enables increased access to patrons when storage for artwork is properly done.

Preparing art for storage

The key to determining how to store artwork always begins with proper preparation. Storage experts agree it goes a long way to prevent permanent damage and integrity loss. This is especially relevant since presenting pieces on long-term display can cause the paint to crack or fade and the frame to deteriorate. So, set aside a few minutes to read through these simple steps to preserve collections.

  • Find and select a storage area with foot traffic and does not have a lot of light.
  • Use a clean microfiber cloth or dry soft paintbrush to remove dust from all the artwork going into long-term storage.
  • Whenever you work with framed art, tightly wrap the pieces in a protective covering such as a storage blanket or bubble wrap and secure it with packing tape. Using boxes helps protect the frames. Also, check if the frames need a quality polish before being stored.
  • If you are wanting to know how to store canvas paintings that are unframed, use a sheet of silicone release paper to cover the front of the canvas. Then, wrap it in glassine paper. Avoid creating an airtight seal so you will not accidentally cause a greenhouse that can allow mold and bacteria to grow.

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Several factors can impact your decision on how to store artwork and the solution to meet this need. A few that you must consider before discussing the available options with experts include:

  • Size
  • Paint type
  • Whether it's framed or unframed

Additionally, you must keep the works in a climate-controlled area. If storing canvas pieces, conditions should not exceed 53% humidity and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Artwork storage types

Some storage options that allow museum, warehouse, or personal use include:

  • Shelves that keep framed and unframed art organized and safe from light and pests while off the floor to save space.
  • Flat-file drawer or specialized cabinets that protect large documents and maps or specimens which museums and private collectors must maintain.
  • Carts with adjustable dividers to keep framed paintings in a safe, upright position that prevents damage during transit
  • Pull-out display panels that compact and protect hanging art in a smaller, more efficient footprint so you can use the museum floor to the fullest extent.
  • Bulk racks have a heavy-duty, durable design that can support over-sized artifacts with large weight capacities.

This article will cover all these topics, so you will have a definitive answer about which storage option to use. Read on to gain further insight into the benefits that affordable and efficient storage solutions can provide. Then, choose whatever best fits your collection needs and budget. Click here to see more museum storage solutions.

Steel shelves for framed & unframed art

framed artwork storage shelvesCreate compartments large enough to keep framed art safe and organized in one convenient solution with these steel shelves. All have partition rods made from the same durable material to simplify the process. It keeps collections separate while sharing the same footprint, helping maximize storage efficiency. Because the dividers provide a sturdy barrier, priceless works avoid contact with one another while being stored. This helps eliminate the risk that anything depreciates or loses its integrity. These collections also avoid taking up floor space, allowing facilities to use it more efficiently.

Additionally, the durable museum-style shelves have open backs that allow proper airflow to circulate and prevent dust. As a result, items within the individual compartments remain clean and are safer to handle. Furthermore, the closed sides and top prevent unnecessary light to help eliminate deterioration risks. Other features such as a bottom kick plate helps prevent valued artifacts from rolling underneath. A powder-coat paint also meets archival quality standards that relate to no off-gassing, helping safeguard pieces while stored long-term.

Museum personnel can even customize the available space through simple shelf adjustments. The flexible components allow vertical modification, so you can optimize the interior to fit your collection needs. If desired, facilities can also add shelves, so the solution provides the most versatile storage. Place the dividers as desired across the width of the shelf to ensure users have easy art access. Systems also allow key or electronic lock security door integration if you want some cost-effective theft protection.

Experts can also provide other affordable shelving alternatives that can do the same thing if you would like to have a bigger selection to choose from. All of these include adaptive components to simplify space reconfiguration. Therefore, you can customize the inside to match any collection size with a simple modification. The one better suited to store works on canvas can fit optional swinging doors too. They're useful if you are concerned about pieces being tampered with or lost to theft. Others allow stacking up to two high, so you can put the floor to more efficient use while maximizing hard-to-reach vertical space.

Art flat-file drawer & specimen cabinets

artwork flat file drawer cabinetsUse durable metal flat-file drawer cabinets to keep delicate art graphics, maps, and large documents organized and safe from folding or rolling damage. Some models can fit bases which lift the storage to an ergonomic height. This solution gets systems off the floor, giving you more natural and injury-free access during use while also saving space. Other systems allow use with optional dolly carts that provide safe and cost-effective relocation to give museums instant space savings. All units can have optional locking drawers for a nominal fee as well to eliminate theft concerns.

Exterior pull handles facilitate full storage drawer extension to give users maximum visible access to stored collections. When you are finished viewing the content, use the same handles to close the compartments. It creates a clean, compacted look that keeps dust out and maximizes space. Five-drawer configurations can even accommodate optional self-stick dividers to maximize space use and keep collections organized.

Galleries, private collectors, and others can use more specialized cabinets to protect specimen collections from damaging environmental factors. This includes dust, insects, mold, light, and more that can cause samples to deteriorate. Extra-wide, full, and half-height configurations available to accommodate your entomology, herbarium, and historic costume needs.

Adjustable wire shelf carts for framed art

framed painting storage cartsAdjustable wire shelf carts help keep valuable framed artwork clean, organized, and safe during transit. These commercial-grade chrome wire carts have shelves and dividers you can adapt to store your collection. The partitions help keep works in a secure, upright position to prevent damage. The open design also allows proper airflow to eliminate dust while giving users easy access. It provides high visibility, too so museum or art warehouse personnel can load or unload with more speed and efficiency.

During non-use, you can relocate the empty trucks to obtain more productive utilization of floor space. You can, for example, hide the mobile solutions in a storage closet to create cleaner and safer work conditions. It's easy to do since the units roll on swivel non-marring casters. During their use, you can consolidate works within one convenient solution since systems have a few storage levels. Then, transport everything to wherever needed to simplify the exhibit rotation process.

Space-saving pull-out display art panels

pull out artwork storage display panelsMuseums can utilize alternative pull-out display panels to protect hanging art collections and maximize floor space efficiency. You will find the process easy to do since the systems have a retractable, roll-out design. Use the handles to bring the shelf rows out into the aisle when you need visible and ergonomic access. Display panels allow independent operation, so you can work with one at a time while leaving others undisturbed. It helps keep pieces hanging in another row safe from damage and allows you to secure everything on hooks without risking personal safety. Once through, slide the screen back into position to create a clean and compacted look that maximizes floor space.

During non-use, the racks nest while stacked one behind the other to hide aisles that waste space. Therefore, facilities can use the full footprint to display collections that patrons want to view. You even have the flexibility to integrate extra modules later if public demands change. Systems can also have optional front panels that provide extra dust and light protection. All include an environmentally sensitive powder-coat paint finish to protect artwork, personnel, and patrons from harmful off-gassing.

Bulk racks for oversized artifacts

bulk museum storage racksSteel bulk racks provide a heavy-duty storage solution durable enough to protect and organize oversized artifacts. Pick from:

  • Boltless high-capacity bulk racks with adjustable shelves that provide flexible storage, so you create the safest preservation conditions.
  • Different wide span bulk racks have starter and add-on units which you can use to create a continuous run that maximizes space.
  • Others with a boltless, wide-span design ship free and fast to speed use and ensure affordability. The shelving uses high-quality welded vertical uprights which provide extra stability and ensure users' safety. Units come standard without decking, but you can add it for an additional cost. Some available options include:
  • Easy-to-install wire mesh that allows overhead sprinkler water to run through every storage level to increase effective if a fire breaks out. It can support higher weight capacities than wood and provides improved collection visibility.
  • Durable steel.

Painting storage tips

A few helpful how-to store artwork tips include:

  • Creating an easy-to-reference record of art. Make sure you label everything.
  • Utilize a climate-controlled storage area.
  • Lay works out on a flat surface if it's going into long-term storage.
  • Store everything separately. When you must store artwork together, use padding or racks to keep art separate.
  • Cover every painting to prevent dust and dirt collection on the surface.
  • Take the art from long-term storage on occasion and air it out to prevent humidity buildup.
  • Avoid direct sunlight and heat.
  • Do not place art on the floor or concrete, which can absorb moisture.

Contact us for artwork storage

Southwest Solutions Group® provides design and installation services for artwork storage shelves, cabinets, carts, pull-out display panels, and bulk racks. Free consultations are available to determine your exact needs before beginning the design process. To learn more or to speak with a storage specialist, call us at 1-800-803-1083 or send us a message today.

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