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Everything you need to know about hanging art

Award-winning designers, a museum director, and Christie’s specialists and art handlers share their expert tips — from finding the perfect height to how to mix genres

Consider context

For Marc-Olivier Wahler, Director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, any hanging process should begin with a considered look at where works are being displayed. ‘Take into consideration the context in which the artwork or several artworks are going to be integrated,’ he says. ‘Is it a domestic space, a business area, or an institutional venue? What is the social, political, architectural context? What are all the other elements present in the space where the works are exhibited? The presence of the windows and doors, the height of the ceiling, the quality of the floor, the electrical plugs and switches, etc — they all have an impact on the way the spectator will interact with the works.’

… but avoid locations that could cause damage

It can be tempting to give your favourite works pride of place above the fireplace, but Christie’s art handlers recommend proceeding with caution. ‘We see plenty of pictures that come in for valuation having been hung above a fireplace,’ says Pat Galligan, who works at Christie’s in London. ‘Over time, the canvas can melt or be damaged — a phenomenon that can also affect works hung above a radiator.’ Similarly, light can fade fragile or unprotected works. ‘Beware of direct sunlight, and never hang a drawing or a watercolour near a window.’

Choose your frame wisely 

If you’re still set on hanging a masterpiece above your mantelpiece, smart framing can help prevent damage caused by exposure to heat and light. Today, special glazes can be applied to glass to prevent UV light from causing works to fade. Similarly, seals can be applied to frames to create artificial environments, protecting artworks from humidity or fluctuations in temperature. Our guide to framing offers more expert tips

Framing with the use of special glazes and airtight seals can protect artworks from potential damage caused by temperature fluctuations, humidity and sunlight

Framing with the use of special glazes and airtight seals can protect artworks from potential damage caused by temperature fluctuations, humidity and sunlight

Get height right

‘Typically, modern and contemporary works hang at 1.55 metres, to the middle of the picture. That’s the height used by museums, and for displays at Christie’s,’ says art handler Pat Galligan. ‘Old Masters tend to be hung a little bit higher, though of course the height at which you hang a work at home will depend on factors including furniture and ceiling height.’ Certain artists did give specific instructions about how their works should be hung — Le Corbusier, for example, insisted that his works were placed at 1.83 metres from the floor, measured from the top of the painting. 

A display of paintings at Christie’s where, as in many other institutions, modern works tend to be hung at 1.55 metres to the middle of the picture, and Old Masters a little bit higher

A display of paintings at Christie’s where, as in many other institutions, modern works tend to be hung at 1.55 metres to the middle of the picture, and Old Masters a little bit higher

Pay attention to fixings

‘When hanging a piece of flat art, we always recommend using double fixings on either side of the work, rather than a single, central fixing,’ says Galligan. ‘This will prevent the work hanging forward, or moving every time someone brushes past.’

The wall is as important as the work

‘Negative space is, to me, one of the most unevaluated elements when it comes to placing several artworks together,’ comments Marc-Olivier Wahler. ‘What is the space in between each work? This negative space is the path created by each spectator, the space they occupy when they walk from one work to another, when their eyes scroll from one element to another. And this space is, of course, strongly influenced by the context.’

When you’re hanging works at home, dont be afraid to mix periods and genres. Photo © Andreas von Einsiedel  Alamy Stock Photo
When you’re hanging works at home, don't be afraid to mix periods and genres. Photo: © Andreas von Einsiedel / Alamy Stock Photo

Make your hang varied 

If you’re lucky enough to have an expansive collection — or are thinking about your next acquisition — hanging works at home can become a more serious endeavour. According to interior designers Drake/Anderson, collectors shouldn’t be afraid of mixing periods or genres. Jamie Drake advises: ‘For a recent project, I took an incredible 17th-century portrait and paired it with contemporary paintings. In terms of types of artwork you often find a wonderful dialogue between, say, a large painting and a more intimate group of four to six photographs, or works on paper.’


A living room by award-winning interior designers DrakeAnderson, who advocate ‘celebrating contrasts, allowing individual works to stand as a singular force’

A living room by award-winning interior designers Drake/Anderson, who advocate ‘celebrating contrasts, allowing individual works to stand as a singular force’

Find visual links between artworks 

‘Pairing or grouping works together in a hang can bring out visual or thematic links,’ says Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art specialist Alexander Berggruen. The principle is one that has guided a number of Drake/Anderson’s designs. ‘At Masterpiece London, we hung a painting of Leda and the Swan next to contemporary sculptures of birds made from playing cards,' says Caleb Anderson. 'In another design, we hung a David LaChapelle work next to a Dutch Old Master; they were painting centuries apart, but shared themes of sex and sensuality.’ Ken Fulk, Creative Director of Ken Fulk Inc, advises: ‘Don’t worry too much about consistency. As long as there are enough works to create a real impact, the pattern — visual or conceptual — will reveal itself as you begin to assemble it.’

… or play on contrasts

While drawing upon similarities between artworks can be one way of organising your collection, hanging very different pieces alongside one another can also create a visually striking display. ‘It can also be a way of celebrating strong contrasts, allowing individual works to stand on their own, as a singular force,’ comments Alexander Berggruen.  

Don’t always trust your eye

When hanging an artwork, our art handlers recommend getting technical. ‘Your eyes can play tricks on you. Always use a tape measure and a spirit level to be certain that works are hanging straight,’ says Christie’s art handler David Ellis. ‘This is especially important if you’re going for a symmetrical hang: do it badly, and no one will be sure whether you’re hanging symmetrically or not.’ 


‘Pairing of works together can bring out thematic links’ a DrakeAnderson display at Masterpiece London juxtaposes a painting of Leda and the Swan next to contemporary sculptures of birds made from playing cards

‘Pairing of works together can bring out thematic links’: a Drake/Anderson display at Masterpiece London juxtaposes a painting of Leda and the Swan next to contemporary sculptures of birds made from playing cards

… and avoid water pipes and wiring

‘It’s important to understand the structure of the walls in your home,’ adds David Ellis. ‘A very large picture isn’t going to stay on a simple plaster wall if you’re only using a couple of screws. If you’re not experienced, err on the side of caution and use a slightly bigger fixing than you think is necessary.’ It’s also important to check for electricity lines and water pipes. In modern houses, these tend to be channelled around the edges of walls, but in older houses, this isn’t always the case, so make sure your screw isn’t going to go through a water pipe.

But don’t worry too much

While practical measures could help prolong the life of an artwork, when it comes to hanging, ‘There really is no right and wrong — your collection should be organised in the way that appeals to you,’ says art handler Pat Galligan. ‘If the picture’s good enough it doesn’t matter where you hang it — it will look good anyway.’

So how do the experts arrange their own artworks? ‘I hang prints and works on paper in my bedroom, to protect them from light — though nothing above my bed, to avoid a literal crushing of dreams,’ reveals Alexander Beggruen. ‘Small works on paper nestle in nooks near the entrance to my bathroom, while big paintings hang on expanses of wall. I have little paintings across my apartment — and even a few in my bookshelf! A sculpture is next on my wish list.’

Marc-Olivier Wahler’s upcoming show, The Transported Man, takes place at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum from 29 April to 22 October 2017. It will bring together more that 50 artists whose work examines the notion of magic and belief