Why Is It Important to Maintain Humidity of Art Galleries?

The humidity level in art galleries plays a vital role in the preservation of artwork. External factors like the number of visitors and the outside weather conditions can cause changes in the humidity levels in the galleries. So how do these changes affect artistic products? Read on to find out why it’s necessary to control humidity in art galleries strictly.

The Materials in Works of Art

The artwork is made from a wide variety of substances. Most of these are organic, such as wood, cotton, paper, silk, linen, wool, parchment, leather, feathers, fur, bone, ivory, and horn. All these materials are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture in damp environments and give off part of their moisture in dry environments. Too high or too low humidity can also affect the inorganic materials in art, such as metals, ceramics, and glass. Reasons like these are why companies should invest in a Data Logger to work out how humid their gallery is.

Effects of High Humidity

There have been calls for art galleries to limit crowds when the weather is humid. As wild as these suggestions may seem, they actually hold water. An influx of people can raise the humidity of an art gallery considerably, particularly on a rainy day. High humidity can harm artwork in more ways than one.

Too much humidity makes hygroscopic materials swell. It can also cause fabrics to fade, encourage pests, and cause mold and mildew growth, which can destroy collections. If the pests become an extreme issue, contacting companies such as EconomyExterminators.com can help get rid of them so the artwork is protected and safe. Metal sculptures can rust or turn black or green. Wood can warp when there’s the high moisture content in the air and even crack if exposed to high temperatures as well. This is why many who manage the galleries decide to use the best dehumidifiers, like the best ones here to maintain their works of art.

Acids and other chemicals within pieces of art can break down due to excessive humidity. Therefore, humidity should be controlled by best dehumidifiers in the galleries. The emulsions on photos may adhere to sleeves and other photographs. A high level of moisture in the surrounding air has also been linked with crizzling, making cracks form on the surface of the glass and hazing the finish.

Effects of Low Humidity

Excessively low humidity makes materials dry out and shrink. The veneer on wooden artwork can get brittle and break as it dries out. Paint, gesso, metal inlays, marquetry, and oriental, Japanese or European lacquer can become loose and detach. Paper and papyrus are harder to handle when they dry out.

Textiles are also susceptible to damage when the air surrounding them is very dry. Exhibits that contain silk or hair stretched across frames or boards can become brittle and break. Dry or moist conditions can also interfere with the mineral content in stone, terracotta, and pottery. When wet, the salts in them will be brought to the surface by moisture. When dry, the salts will then crystallize on the surface. This can stain the surface and even cause flaking and powdering.

Effects of Frequent Humidity Fluctuations

If humidity goes up and down frequently, it will make hygroscopic materials to swell and contract repeatedly. The frequent fluctuations will cause stress on the materials’ connecting fibers and gradually weaken them. Eventually, embrittlement will occur. A good example of the result of constant expansion and subsequent contraction is the flaking of oil paintings.

Canvas adapts well to variations in humidity levels over time. However, it responds quickly to rapid changes. While long-term changes don’t affect it dramatically, quick changes in humidity levels cause constant fluctuation that may damage the material or its paint layer.

Fluctuating humidity is mainly a problem in composite works that have two or more materials with different shrinkage rates. The expansion of one of the materials can force alterations to the dimensions of a different material, resulting in substantial tension and damage. For instance, in paintings on wood panels, the variation in relative humidity causes wood and paint to expand and contract at different rates. Eventually, this causes blistering and cracking. Such damage can also be seen on the skins of drums.

Unstable humidity levels can also cause chemical reactions in inorganic materials. As a result, metals may corrode, dyes and pigments may fade, and mineral and glass collections may become damaged.

If left unchecked, humidity can cause quick deterioration of artwork, which is extremely costly to rectify. Humidity levels can change frequently and drastically on a daily basis. As a result, art galleries need to regulate the environment around their exhibits 24/7. That implies having a reliable and responsive control system in place to ensure ideal conditions for art storage. According to the Northern States Conservation Center, mixed collections require a relative humidity of above 25% and below 65%. Fluctuations in the relative humidity shouldn’t be more than +/- 3% in a 24-hour period.

Maintaining precise humidity conditions protects the inestimable heritage preserved in artistic structures.

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Adam Aslan

Adam Aslan is an art writer, curator, and artist who also runs ZXY Gallery based in Brooklyn.

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