Protection of works of art

EOLIOS Ingénierie brings you its international expertise in the climatic preservation of works of art


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Climate treatment design for museums and private collections

Climate treatment for the preservation of works

The protection of works of art is complex and delicate. The key is “preventive protection,” which means effectively monitoring the art storage environment to achieve a stable environment with consistent temperature and humidity, as well as a clean environment that limits dust.

The display and storage of works of art is complex because of their rarity, their extremely valuable nature and almost as much sensitive to the impact of the air. Some of the historical works are still with us today such as inscriptions, pieces of buildings, tools, coins, utensils of life and various works of art. It is because they were generally stored in a particular way (buried…), or even discovered recently, that they could cross these “many years” and reach us.

What is the impact of the air on the works?

The specific manifestations are generally the following:

  • Corrosive pollution caused by unclean ambient air (pollution);
  • Physical damage caused by low or high ambient temperature and humidity;
  • Irreversible and permanent damage caused by strong fluctuations in temperature and humidity of the ambient air.
Therefore, whether it is a museum, a temporary exhibition hall, a personal art collection, or a private art collection, the storage environment for the collection must be strictly controlled to provide an optimal environment for the collection. Regardless of the method used, the temperature and humidity of the ambient air must be adjusted to the different storage requirements of the collection.

Combining public impact and preservation of works

What climatic treatment should be adopted in the preservation of works?

It is difficult to reconcile the thermal comfort of visitors with the preservation of works of art: just as people need an appropriate temperature and good air quality, works of art also need a specific environment to be preserved intact.

For museums, the air conditioning temperature is not decided randomly by the HVAC manager, and the regulation of the atmosphere is generally not done for the well-being of the tourists. While this answer may seem self-explanatory, defining temperature is also complicated, as works of different textures, materials, and years of creation may have different temperature requirements.

Due to the protection requirements of these historical works, the temperature in the exhibition halls can be controlled at 18°C-22°C all year round or the works can be placed in an air-conditioned showcase. Thus, the maintenance of good climatic conditions in museums is complex.

Cracquelure - peinture ancienne - dégradation - variation climatique - solutions
Illustration of paint degradation due to poor weathering

Different climatic atmospheres for each work

Special climatic conditions to maintain for each work

For example, natural fibers such as wood, paper, cotton, linen, and silk commonly used in ancient paintings and calligraphy generally have more stringent temperature requirements. High temperature can cause condensation and swelling of the artwork , while low temperature can cause material to crack, cracks or wrinkles.

In contemporary art, some conceptual and experimental works will be recycled or destroyed according to the artist’s ideas after being exhibited, so temperature control is not necessary. Others rely directly on the air movements of the showroom to transcend these air flows from these generally masked systems.

Management of relative humidity in the preservation of works

In addition to temperature, relative humidity (RH) also has a very important impact on the collection, especially the specific humidity in an area of the space. If the relative humidity is too high, fungi and mold can develop; linen and silk fabrics fade easily ; articles of metal such as copper and iron are easy to rust or corrode. If the relative humidity is too low , oil paint mounted on wooden frames can cause surface cracks due to warping of the wooden backing board.

In this context, since temperature causes changes in relative humidity , international temperature and humidity standards for museums and art galleries are generally formulated according to precise standards.

Overall, the indoor relative humidity must be between 45% and 55%, and each allow a difference of 5%, or preferably between 40% and 60%; the temperature range should be between 18 ° C and 22 ° C. Finer parameters may be required depending on the works.

Of course, these values are not absolute. There is an additional explanation for this; that is, some works need to be adjusted according to the actual situation by control, and the requirements of the storage conditions of the loaned works need to be finalized after consultation with curators.

Daily temperature oscillation

Another very important point is to minimize sudden fluctuations in these parameters. Regardless of temperature and humidity, a sudden increase or decrease can cause irreversible damage to the collections.

Thermal inertia is generally better in older buildings and climatic stability is easier to control with light means than in recent buildings with a lot of glazing.

A room opening to the outside will be subject to great climatic variations and should be preceded by an airlock. In any type of building, doors or windows should never be opened without consideration when the exterior and interior ambient conditions are very different. The CFD simulation allows to analyze the impact of the opening of external doors during the installation of new works.

The influence of temporary exhibitions with an excess of visitors must be taken into account on the use of the exhibition halls.

Play Video
Louvre Paris - Staircase of the Victory of Samothrace - Study of thermal comfort

Impact of dust

The ambient air carries gases, dust and micro-organisms which settle on and in the works. Dust is a highly penetrating particle that is the cause of much degradation. In the open air, it is difficult, if not impossible, to suppress the dust that is generated by the degradation of materials and is carried by visitors. Here, the stability of the air movements is important. Indeed, over time, dust settles in the various dead zones of the gallery; however, the movement of air by the creation of air currents (door opening for example) is likely to remove layers of dust inaccessible to maintenance and accumulated over time, thus promoting pollution of works.

Optimizing climatic parameters by CFD simulation

We study the implementation of the climatic conditions as a whole in order to guarantee the optimal preservation of the works of art. We perform CFD simulations in order to inform conservators of the different impacts caused by the drifts of a bad climate control.

Play Video
Louvre Paris - Study on opening doors to outdoor gardens in mid-season

Air conditioning : on the same subject