If you hang any paintings, photographs, and other works of art in your Scottsdale home, you may have noticed that pieces placed near light sources—windows, ceiling lights, and the like—have faded, or worse, begun flaking and peeling. This is due to the damaging effects of light on art. Some wavelengths like ultraviolet (UV) light are more damaging, and certain media are more sensitive than others are.
In the art world, curators and art gallery owners constantly have to find a balance between preserving works of art and displaying them to the public. This is especially important when high-profile collections are concerned. Fortunately, the advent of “museum-friendly” LED lighting is changing several long-held views about lighting and art.
1. LED Lighting is ‘Gentler’ on Artwork
Paintings and sculptures made with organic pigments and surfaces are usually more susceptible to ‘light damage’ than those featuring mineral-based materials. UV light has a way of degrading the chemical structure of organic materials, while infrared radiation (IR) causes heat damage, which has the effect of ‘cooking’ the painting or sculpture after prolonged exposure. These are usually primary concerns with exhibits featuring works on paper and albumen-based photographs.
LEDs allay any concerns about UV damage, having very low emissions in the UV spectrum. Besides UV light, LEDs also emit lower levels of infrared radiation (heat) than incandescent light bulbs and halogen lamps.
The benefits are two-fold. First, galleries don’t have to worry about LEDs having an oven-like effect on artwork. Second, switching all lights in a museum to LEDs lets owners reduce their reliance on air conditioners to keep ambient temperatures at cool and safe levels.
2. LED Lighting Produces a More Accurate Light
Art and beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but without good light, the beholder can’t appreciate the beauty of a painting or sculpture to its maximum potential.
The right lighting ensures the artwork captivates the viewer. In 2013, the Sistine Chapel retrofitted all lights illuminating Michelangelo’s fresco with more than 7,000 LED light bulbs to prevent its continued fading after exposure to sunlight and halogen lamps. The LED retrofit also ensured that the painted ceiling could be seen in its full glory under light similar in quality to natural sunlight.
3. LED Lighting Can Reduce a Museum or Gallery’s Energy Consumption
Museums and art galleries can also benefit from the reduced energy consumption of LED lights. One case study by the U.S. Department of Energy and the J. Paul Getty Museum in California saw that replacing the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s 60-watt halogen flood lamps with 12-watt LED lamps led to an 83-percent increase in energy savings.
The goal of that study was to replicate the lighting quality of halogen lamps—widely praised by curators for their bright white light—as closely as possible using LEDs to see how much energy the museum could save. The energy savings didn’t just come from the LED lamps themselves; because LEDs generate very little heat, the museum’s air conditioners were able to keep indoor temperatures at ideal levels without having to work harder and use more electricity.