Museums, Exhibitions & Galleries: Display Lighting Mantra

Form only exists through light and our perception of the world around us is totally dependent on it.

Claude Monet 

The illumination of museums and galleries faces various obstacles and threats with developing technologies and methods. In the illumination of museums and galleries, regardless of the exhibits, they are expected to reflect the texture, form, colours, details and philosophy of the works. The ‘display lighting mantra’ detailed here shows the balance that is needed between visibility, interest, preservation and ambience considerations.

Claude Monet has explained the importance of light very clearly and sharply. In addition, it should be mentioned that light can be used as a manipulation tool. Light is an invisible wavelength, and we can only see light with the surfaces when it touches. We can only see and understand our surroundings with light and as far as the light allows. At this point, it is necessary to approach and illuminate the artworks and museums as philosophically as well as technically and architecturally. In this way, art and design can reach the value levels that they deserve more easily. 

Some of the proven methods of exhibition space and museum lighting are constantly repeated; to create accent lighting on artworks, to provide major contrasts, to provide volume views. But each artwork is very different in terms of the philosophical process. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” masterpieces are separated from each other. Therefore, their lighting and ambiance cannot be expected to be the same. These examples can be easily increased; ancient greek monuments, gothic approach, surreal works, pop-ups, minimal photographs, modern installations and many others. In monument lighting with cubic details in the foreground, a shiny image is aimed by creating shadows; in an installation created by combining different materials more homogenous lighting is preferred for perceiving all details. In some cases, accent lighting on the works is designed as single and unlike, while sometimes the surfaces behind the works are illuminated, leaving a dark balance in the foreground. Some works are illuminated as frames, while others remain illuminated in a general ambiance. In some cases, you enter a dark room, but sometimes you find yourself under a huge skylight… 

Architectural, aesthetic and philosophical aspects of museum lighting methods will be changed. There is only one rule that does not change: color rendering. As its name signifies, it means that the colors of the illuminated surface or object are accurately reflected. Daylight is the reference color render. All other artificial light sources try to approach the spectrum values ​​of daylight. CRI (Color Rendering Index) is measured with a standard spectrum. However, this value cannot indicate whether a light source has a good or bad color rendering exactly. TM-30 (Color Rendition Gamut), Rw (White Rendering), R (especially R9) values ​​of light sources should be taken into consideration, especially in museums where even the smallest color differences can lead to significant changes in the meaning of artworks. 

In addition to all its miraculous effects, light damages work of art and other organic materials. Photons cause permanent damage to the materials they are exposed to over time, and it is currently impossible to reverse this. Light can be evaluated as a wavelength to make this damage more understandable. UV (Ultra Violet) rays cause corruption inside the organic materials, despite all protectors and filters.

Costumes, textile products, leather and leather prints, manuscripts, drawings, watercolor and oil paintings, miniatures, color photographs are highly sensitive materials. Lacquered, plastic, wood, bone, ivory, mineral covers and black and white photographs are medium sensitivity; stone, ceramic, glass and metal types can also be classified as low sensitivity materials. Depending on the sensitivity of these materials, the power and levels of light to which they are exposed may also be changed. While designing the lighting, it is absolutely essential to ensure the lowest possible level of light and to use the least harmful light sources considering the physical characteristics of the works planned to be exhibited.

It is believed that the museums and exhibition areas are an invaluable means of interaction; having said that light is the most effective reflector of this interaction. In some cases, differences in interpretation or incorrect planning and installation may be ignored, but this is not the case for art…