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Framing art: Tips from Long Island gallery owners

Groupings can be as effective as one big

Groupings can be as effective as one big image. This is Donald Baechler's "3 Flowers" in the home of Quogue Gallery owners Chester and Christy Murray. Credit: Veronique Louis

One of the particular joys of wandering through Long Island’s many art galleries and museums is seeing how curators choose to showcase their favorite works. However, what works well in a professional setting might not translate at home. Framing artwork is both a practical concern and a bit of a mystery. To better understand how framing works and what framing works best, we visited the homes of some Long Island gallerists to see how they present their own collections.

TRADITIONAL

For Steven Stam, owner of Stam Gallery, a fine art and antiques dealer in Port Washington, the most important advice he can offer on framing is that the art and the frame should be historically compatible. In his Lynbrook home, his collection of fine art and Old Masters works is mounted in era-appropriate frames that highlight the historical perspective of the works. “For example, I have a painting at home of Charles I of England. It’s in a reproduction of a 17th century Dutch frame, which is appropriate, because it’s a 17th century Dutch painting,” he says. Stam emphasizes that making historically accurate matches is about aesthetics. “Nineteenth century paintings can have elaborate gold leaf frames, but you can’t imagine de Kooning in that kind of gold carved frame,” said Stam. “The frame has to be appropriate to the art.”

SELF-TAUGHT AND FOLK

In her Huntington home, Cherie Via Rexer displays an eclectic collection of art that she says reflects the voice of her gallery, the Ripe Art Gallery in Huntington, which showcases folk, self-taught, outsider visionary and street art. “I have a lot of different types of frames and works, and I have a sense of humor about it,” she says. “Most of what I do is traditional American framing, such as the big chunky frame on my green gas station painting, which is styled after American tramp art. That kind of frame is supertraditional for that kind of art.” Rexer, who frames her own art, spent years as a professional framer, so she also doesn’t mind taking a few chances, especially when it comes to framing her own unusual collection. “I think you can really do something fun with your frame as long as it goes with the work,” she says. “If you frame the work for what it is, it will look fabulous no matter where you hang it.”

CONTEMPORARY

“Art should be presented in a frame that allows it to be the focal point,” says Christy Murray, who, with her husband, Chester, co-owns Quogue Gallery in Quogue, which highlights modern and contemporary art. “The frame should not overshadow the art. It should complement and not compete with the picture, and the framed work should be in harmony with the aesthetic of the room.” Not all framing decisions need to be complicated, though. In fact, sometimes less is more. “For contemporary art, we consistently keep it simple and use frames that highlight the art and don’t draw attention to the frame,” says Murray. “For large works on paper, we float the art and add a simple white frame,” says Murray. For smaller works, they choose to match the matting to the paper to emphasize the work. Other works require a more three-dimensional approach. “The black and white prints by Donald Baechler provide an example of floating a picture in a shadow box frame,” says Murray. Sometimes, of course, it’s possible to frame two, three or four pictures all together. In that case, Murray says she likes to keep the form simple. “In grouping art, we like to hang pictures that work together in a grid,” she says. “For example, we chose to hang together four Raymond Hendler works. We framed them in a soft, gold gilt frame, as it works well with the rich tone of the work. This technique is a great alternative to finding one large piece to fill a wall space.”

FRAMING TIPS

Don’t be too rigid about how you want to frame a piece of art before talking to a professional. “You should be open-minded about your framing options,” says Chris McDaniel, owner of Rogers Picture Framing in East Northport. “Do you want a wooden frame? A gold frame? I don’t want to dissuade someone from their vision, but you can look at something and see if it clashes or if it’s from a wrong era. If you try and put a 1950s photo in an 1870s frame, it doesn’t look correct.”

Also consider the matting. “You have to allow the painting to breathe,” says Steven Stam, owner of Stam Gallery, a fine art and antiques dealer in Port Washington. “Especially if it’s a heavy frame, there should be a matting between a frame and painting, whether it’s a gold strip or some other material, because the frame should not overwhelm the painting.”

Gallerists suggest going to a professional framer if the art you have has any value to you, even if that value is only sentimental. “Whether it’s your 3-year-old’s finger painting or your grandmother’s sketchbook, if it’s hanging in your house, it’s furniture,” says Cherie Via Rexer, owner of Ripe Art Gallery in Huntington, which showcases folk, self-taught, outsider visionary, and street art. She adds that a decent framing job might start in the $200 to $300 range.

Of course, framing can also cost much, much more. But remember not to spend more money on your frame than your art is worth. “Framing doesn’t add value, but it can make the painting less pleasurable to see,” says Stam. “I have seen French posters that are worth $1,200, but that are framed in $4,000 frames. That’s ridiculous. The frame decorates the art, but it never adds value.”

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