You are having a solo show and are responsible for hanging it. You’ve worked hard on creating a strong body of work for the show, but now the challenge is how to place the artwork. Or maybe you’re hanging your students’ work, or hanging a show of many different artists’ works. Firstly you need to determine whether you’re having the showmuseum style, in which paintings are placed at eye level around
the space, or salon style, in which paintings are placed in groupings that may cover the wall from floor to ceiling, with little space between the pieces.
Whichever way you choose, some of the same principles apply. In general, you want to think of the exhibit as a piece of artwork itself. Each wall is its own painting, so while you want the paintings to hang together harmoniously, you also want there to be enough contrast to make the whole wall interesting and attract the viewer’s attention. Too much unity creates boredom; too much variety creates chaos. This adage is true not only for the individual artwork, but also for the exhibition.
Keep in mind that the same principles of art and design that apply to your paintings also apply to creating an exhibition, whether you’re hanging salon style or museum style.
Also, remember that hanging a show takes forethought and time. You may even want to draw a plan to scale of the exhibition area ahead of time and, knowing the dimensions of your paintings,
lay them out on paper first. Then keep in mind these ten suggestions.
- Make sure the space is clean and cleared from clutter.
- Consider the flow of the venue. What is seen first when the space is entered? What if there are multiple entrances? You want the first piece of artwork seen to be strong and grab a viewer’s attention.
- Set the artwork by laying your paintings against the walls in groupings that you will consider. You can move them around until you are satisfied with the groupings you’ve created.
- Anchor each wall with a stronger, larger piece if there are a variety of different sized works.
- Think about balance. Again , just as in a single piece of artwork a small cluster of shapes can balance a larger one so, too, in an exhibit several small works might be used to offset and provide balance to a larger piece.
- You might want to cut out pieces of paper to represent your paintings and get their placement on the wall. Do this by tracing the outside of your painting onto a piece of paper, cutting it out, marking on the paper where the nail will go, then taping the paper to the wall with removable painter’s tape. This will help give you an idea of the layout while minimizing the placement of holes in the wall.
- Hang the paintings at eye level when hanging museum style. The average height of the human eye is about 58 inches. The center of the painting should be at approximately this height. American museums standard for hanging artwork is 58 inches.(1) 56″-62″ is the common range within which the center of the painting should fall. The most important thing is to decide on one height and be consistent.
- Try to avoid overcrowding when hanging museum style. Each painting needs to have room to breathe, and this also helps the viewer slow down and appreciate the individual work.
- Use a level to make sure the paintings are hung straight.
- Consider lighting. Where is the light coming from? What is the light source? Is it adequate? Can you redirect the lights to highlight your paintings?
- Bumps and scratches occur. Make sure to have extra paint on hand if you need to do a quick fix of something.
- Be flexible and try different groupings of paintings. You may even find that new combinations of paintings may give you ideas for yet more paintings!
Once you’ve finished hanging the show don’t forget to take photographs of the exhibit space with the paintings on the walls, for this is your new masterpiece!