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Art Wall Lighting

When putting the finishing touches on a room, “there’s nothing better than a beautifully lit piece of art, ” says Richard Mishaan, an AD100 designer known for incorporating arresting artworks into his projects. “Beautiful art enlivens everything in a home, ” he notes. And, of course, good lighting enhances that effect.

But there is no one-size-fits-all approach when lighting art—and there are several potential pitfalls. “The big question is whether you want to directly illuminate the art or just have a piece live in a nicely lit room, ” says lighting designer Doug Russell of Lighting Workshop. Below, Mishaan and Russell share their expert tips about lighting options.

Ceiling-mounted accent lights

“Pin spotlights that direct light onto individual artworks is a great way of illuminating them, ” says Mishaan. These ceiling fixtures can be recessed or surface-mounted, and they allow the direction of light to be adjusted. They can also be specified with a range of light-beam spreads, so “you can ensure that the light covers most of the artwork, ” not just a small part of it, he says.

Overhead recessed spots illuminate a painting by Cecily Brown at the Miami Beach home of TV producer Douglas S. Cramer and artist Hubert Bush.

Photo: Bjorn Wallander

As a rule of thumb, adds Russell, ceiling-mounted lights should be placed so that the light beam hits the center of the artwork when the fixture is adjusted to a 30-degree angle. “If you light a piece of art at ten degrees, which means you’re really close to the wall and pointing almost straight down, you’re going to end up casting really long shadows below the frame, ” he says. “If you go back too far, to 45 degrees, then you’re pointing too directly, and you’ll get reflective glare.”

Track lights

Track-lighting systems have come a long way, and many now have a much cleaner, more minimalist look than the tracks of decades past. Equipped with the right lamps, they perform largely the same as ceiling-mounted accent lights, but provide a few more advantages, says Russell. They’re easier to install, for one, and offer future flexibility.

Multiple light sources provide even illumination of artworks hung in the hallway of a Manhattan home created by architect Preston Phillips and designers Tony Ingrao and Randy Kemper.

Photo: Nikolas Koenig

A recessed ceiling fixture can’t be moved without drywall surgery if you decide to relocate a painting, but with track lighting “you can easily move a fixture or take one off, ” he says. “The trade-off is that you have something that may not be so beautiful installed on the ceiling.”

Wall washers

“You don’t necessarily have to have lighting that hits every painting, ” says Mishaan. “You can wash the wall instead.” Wall washers come in many forms—including recessed, surface-mounted, and track-mounted fixtures that can be placed on walls, ceilings, and floors—that deliver a wide distribution of light.

“You’re creating one bright wall where art is displayed, and indirectly lighting the room, ” says Russell, noting that it’s a technique preferred by many contemporary collectors. “It’s a more casual way of lighting art, ” he says. It also provides built-in flexibility for adding, removing, or relocating art in the future; because the wall is evenly lit, you don’t have to adjust a thing.__

Picture lights__

Picture lights are mounted on the wall or the frames of individual artworks. “It puts the light source really close to the work of art, typically with very low-wattage lamps, ” says Russell. “It provides a sense of intimacy with a piece of art, and invites you to stand close for a look.”

Because they’re decorative fixtures, these lights can add to the look of a room, says Mishaan. “There are some very attractive picture lights out there.” However, he warned, even though you don’t need to cut holes in the ceiling, you’ll need outlets for picture lights with cords, or power for hard-wired models.

For large-scale artworks, notes Russell, companies such as Modulightor and Academy Light can make extremely large picture lights capable of illuminating great expanses.

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