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August 3, 2013 / pleinairman

What Color Should You Paint Your Gallery Walls?

I know I’m opening up a can of worms here, but I feel that I need to respond to someone who commented on the wall colors of our new gallery, Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery.  Our walls are off-white.  The comment was:  “I am surprised that as artists you would elect to show paintings on white walls, that is a big no, no.  All the great Museums use middle value colors so as to make the paintings be more alive. White walls make paintings look darker as our eyes dilate and the white gets all the attention.”

We used white partly because it is a historically-accurate interior treatment for an 1870s Cape.  Back in those days, white paint was (and still is) the least expensive yet classy treatment for plaster-and-lath walls.  We also used it because white will not alter the look of a painting’s color.  But more importantly, white is the most popular interior paint color for today’s homes.  And because we use a blend of natural lighting and lamps that are found in the average home rather than “proper” gallery lighting, a visitor can easily see how a painting might look in her own home.

Before writing this post, I made an informal visual survey online of a number of well-known galleries and museums to see what colors they use.  Not surprisingly, nearly all of them use white or something close to it.  Certainly, they may have a wall or two painted a darker value with a more assertive color to alleviate the monotony of a large, white space, or, as in the case of museums, to create certain effects for special exhibitions, but white is in the lead.

Here is a great museum, the Guggenheim, with a room painted in what must be approaching pure white:

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective
Installation view: Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, June 29–October 8, 2012
Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

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