How to Hang Art: Organize and Hang Your Solo Show Effectively

How to Hang Art

Strazza Art Gallery

Lisa Strazza hangs her works in her artist-owned Strazza Art Gallery in Warwick, New York.

So you’ve scored a solo art show. What happens next? If you’re in charge of the installation, you may have a thing or two to learn about organizing and hanging the art effectively. Jonathan and Marsha Talbot’s 2013 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market article “How to Hang Your Solo Show” will teach you how to hang art and show your works to their best advantage. Read an excerpt from the article below, or read the complete article on ArtistsMarketOnline.com.

Keep creating and good luck!

Mary

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How to Hang Your Solo Show: Show Your Works to Their Best Advantage by Jonathan and Marsha Talbot

Installing a solo show of your own work is a challenging and rewarding task. A solo show is probably something you’ve worked toward for a year or more. You have a substantial emotional investment—and often an economic one as well—in its success. If your show is in a museum or commercial gallery, installing the show will most likely be the responsibility of the museum curator or gallery director. But if your show is in a co-op gallery, art association, alternative art space, library, bank, restaurant, office space or your own studio, part or all of the responsibility for arranging and hanging the work will probably fall on your shoulders. Exploring the installation process will help you create a cohesive exhibition that will show your work to its best advantage.

Things to consider

The first challenge is to recognize that, while the works you’ve created for the exhibition are the reason for the show, the exhibition is not about the works. Instead, the exhibition is a work of art unto itself. Your artworks are just one component of that larger work—the exhibition.

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The space

Start by clearing the space as completely as possible. Even if there are pedestals, chairs or other furniture that you imagine you’ll use in setting up your exhibition, remove them at this point so you can see the space with as few distractions as possible.

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The works

Your art is the raw material of the show. Ideally you’ll have more work than you need to fill the space because this will give you options as you create your exhibition.

Here are a few points you may want to consider: Do you have more work than you need or not enough for this particular space? Are any of your artworks in series? If so, must the series be hung together? Are the majority of the works large or small?

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The works & the space

The first step in determining what goes where is to consider how viewers will enter the space and what they’ll see first. If there’s a wall directly opposite the primary entrance, the visitor’s gaze will likely go there first. But if there’s an exit opposite the primary entrance or if the works on the opposite wall are small and far away, viewers are likely to turn to their right.

how to hang art

Lean your works informally against the wall to establish an approximate arrangement.

The next step is to lean works informally against the wall. By doing this, you can establish an approximate arrangement without the commitment of attaching nails or hooks in any specific locations. It’s important to stay flexible during this stage of the process. Pieces initially placed in one location may be moved three, four or even more times before finding their final position.

Create an interesting arrangement. No one wants to see an uninteresting show, and such a show won’t do your works justice. Try to see the exhibition from a visitor’s perspective. Continuity is important, but sometimes grouping similar works together can be boring. Consider creating visual syncopation by breaking large groups into smaller blocks of unequal size and leaving space between them. Consider creating groupings of some works while displaying others singly. A group of smaller works can balance the impact of a larger work that adds power to a particular part of the exhibition. A small work resting on an easel atop a pedestal can draw viewers to a corner that they might otherwise pass by.

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The mechanics of hanging

When you’re ready to hang the works on the wall, you’ll need hooks or nails for hanging, a pencil, a hammer, pliers (make sure they also cut wire), a tape measure at least 8 feet long and a kneaded gray eraser. A 4- or 6-foot level and some extra picture wire for emergencies are also good to have handy. You can save considerable time if you make a “hanging gauge.”

The average human eye height is approximately 62 inches, and many galleries and museums try to position works of art with the center of the work, measured vertically, at this level. The easy way to do this is to measure the total height of the framed work, divide that amount by two, and subtract the distance between the wire (stretch it taught with one finger) and the top of the frame. Add the result to 62 inches and measure from the floor upwards to position the hook or nail that will hold that work. Using the gauge—where the ruler starts at 62 inches above the floor—eliminates the last calculation.

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Lighting the work

Most exhibition spaces have track lighting of some kind. Make certain that the lights are directed so they best enhance your work. All too often there aren’t as many lights as there are works. When this happens, lighting from an angle, or cross-lighting, enables you to light more than one work with the same fixture (see photos C and D). In general, using floodlights—rather than spotlights that can create hot spots—is best.

Finishing up

A few things remain to be done before the opening. First, you should photograph your show. Use a tripod and turn off the flash on your camera to avoid reflections from works that have glass or are varnished. Don’t include people in your photographs. What you should create is a photographic document showing the exhibition as a whole.

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Third, think about refreshments; customs vary by location and tradition. Do consider, however, that devoting too much space to food and drink may make the refreshments, rather than your works, the focus of the opening.

Lastly, take a deep breath. Forget all the effort it took to make the work and all the effort it took to hang the show. Have a good time.

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Jonathan and Marsha Talbot have been installing solo, group and theme exhibitions together for more than 40 years. Visit Jonathan’s website at www.talbot1.com.

Excerpted from the June 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Used with the kind permission of The Artist’s Magazine, a publication of F+W Media, Inc. Visit www.artistsnetwork.com to subscribe.

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