Don't hang 'em high: tips on buying, displaying art in your home

THE problem with the way the paintings were hung in the home of Mary and Neil Carlson was obvious to everyone but Neil Carlson. The 6 foot 3 inch Massachusetts resident had hung everything up at his eye level ``which made me always have to look up,'' said his 5 foot 3 inch wife. Shirley Kirley, an interior designer who helped the Carlsons restructure the inside of their house, solved the art problem by moving all the pictures down six inches. ``I also hung fewer works,'' Ms. Kirley stated, ``because people need some relief. You don't need a picture on every wall as some people seem to believe.''

The art problem at the Carlsons is similar to that of many people who want to buy attractive objects for their homes but are uncertain how to make both the art and their home look good.

Buying art for one's home means having something one can live with. Objects which look dynamic and beautiful in a museum may prove to be completely unsuitable in a living room. Few people wish to be challenged and stimulated every time they walk into the den, though these are the very crucial considerations for works in museums and art galleries. Inversely, the more comfortable one feels with a work, the less one will truly look at it as time goes on.

``You have to establish the right sort of relationship between the home and the work of art so that they both respect each other,'' said David Rose, president of Art Collectors Service in Stamford, Conn., who works with both private and corporate art collectors. ``If one is highlighted at the expense of the other, the house feels uncomfortable. Some people feel that their house isn't worth as much as their Monet, and they show off the art in a way that diminishes the house. That's great for the painting, but who would want to hang out in that room?''

Striking the right balance drives many collectors to interior decorators and art consultants for assistance, who charge anywhere from $25 an hour on up or take a percentage of the value of the art they buy for customers. Some are listed in the yellow pages, though most can be found by asking art dealers who themselves often moonlight as consultants. Decorators are frequently called in to ``do'' entire rooms, while art consultants stress their particular knowledge of art. Using one or the other may depend upon the value of the art in one's home.

Art consultants, however, are not less sensitive to how works will look in a room. ``Modern paintings look best on white walls,'' said Marilyn Falk, a New York art consultant. ``One of my clients had a very contemporary home and it only made sense to have contemporary art. I had another client who lived in a Tudor-style home, and a big, abstract expressionist painting wouldn't look right at all.''

Other consultants noted that rooms which have a lot of dark wood often require pictures which are light and cheery, in order to break the heavy mood; rooms with big white walls might have several pictures grouped together in order to break the monotony. Walls with floral wallpaper or which are painted something other than white take time to find works that don't clash.

Sculpture poses different problems, partly because it can get physically in the way, be knocked over or otherwise damaged. Sculpted works are intended to be seen from various angles, as opposed to paintings which are only viewed frontally, and consultants recommend that sculpture not be shoved in a corner or against a wall.

``Most people who buy sculpture want something that fits on a pedestal, because they already own a pedestal and want something on it,'' said Phyllis Teplitz, a consultant in North Woodmere, N.Y. She added that the amount of furniture one has, and the volume of room to put it in, often determines the size and suitability of sculpture.

Proper lighting is no less important in making the art in one's home noticeable without being overwhelming, and many consultants recommend track lighting, which highlights works without making overly great demands for attention.

Artists create works for other reasons than how they will fit into someone's living room, but one's enjoyment of works of art is tied to the piece's compatibility with its setting. Possibly, it is the sterile environment of most museums which makes so many people uncomfortable with art. In one's home, the feeling should be more relaxed, yet more direct, since one's environment both reflects and comments upon oneself. By choosing wisely, collectors may gain a far deeper appreciation of the art in their homes.

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