Framing Blues

Over the many years that I have been an art dealer, I continued to be amazed on a regular basis by the framing monstrosities that artists and art buyers seem to produce.

Regardless of what your framer or your interior decorator, or your mom tells you, the prime purpose of a frame is to protect the artwork and ready it for presentation and exhibition.

The dizzying array and varieties of mouldings do offer a challenge to the uninitiated, but as long as you keep in mind a simple rule, you will not screw up: Keep It Simple!

While gold rococo frames once worked well in the 19th century, and still hold their presence in presenting the Impressionist paintings that they have been guarding for over a century, they should never make a 21st century appearance in, let’s say, framing a simple black and white photograph.

Not to imply that a good gilded frame is framata non grata for all contemporary artwork; in fact they still manage to complement and make - as an example - traditional landscape paintings look good.

Colors, designs and textures that do not compete with the artwork should be the goal. I am even more severe in my own personal artwork about framing. I prefer simple matte black metal mouldings for my drawings and the thinnest and barest of light wood frames for my paintings.

A good professional framer should already know all of this.  A hack who wants to sell you an expensive, thick, elaborate moulding for your simple artwork must be avoided at all costs or your visual and monetary cost will be enemies of your art and finances.

For do it yourself framers: learn how to frame properly and learn about conservation materials. You would not believe the number of times that I have seen badly hand-cut mats (the result of using an Exacto knife to cut the mat instead of a good mat cutter), a colored acidic mat, a gaudy, cheap frame and brown cardboard backing from your last move used as backing. They will ruin a perfectly decent work of art.

Some basics: for photography only use white acid free mats (or any light, neutral color mat) and acid free backing. Thin, let me say that again: thin, metal (black or silver) metal moulding frames (matte not shiny) or thin light wood frames. Avoid color mats at all costs and thick frames at all costs. If you can afford it, avoid frames period, and use those gorgeous frameless presentations where the photo is sandwiched between two sheets of museum quality  plexiglass re-inforced with strengthened aluminum to prevent warping (for large photos).

For paintings, I have always subscribed to the less the better and prefer the floating mouldings that allows the canvas to free float in the frame while still protecting its edges. I am also OK with gallery stretched canvasses, where the canvas hangs frameless and the staples are hidden behind the work.

Next: My pet peeves on huge artists’ signatures.

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Delia Brown: Precious — at D’Amelio Terras

Delia Brown -- Story Time -- 2008 -- 12 x 16 inches -- oil on wood panel

Delia Brown — Story Time — 2008 — 12 x 16 inches — oil on wood panel — from D’Amelio-Terras’ website

As an artist who’s spent a lot of time in galleries, I’ve thought much about the need dealers have to position artists in relation to art collectors, and the effect this has on dealer and artist success. This leads me to consider collectors, their backgrounds, motivations, interests, tastes. They’re not a homogeneous block, obviously, so it only makes sense that an artist who’s seriously intent on commercial success should, like any conscientious marketing professional, consider a specific segment within that block and target their work toward that segment as sharply and specifically as possible, using any and all means.

This came to mind, with quite a chuckle, when I visited D’Amelio-Terras late in June and pondered Delia Brown’s show, aptly titled Precious.

Viewing these small panels from a distance, I felt as though I’d stepped out of Chelsea and into JC Penney’s home furnishings department, sans furnishings. The literature accompanying this show speaks of “the delicate decadence of the Rococo painters” and “Balthusian tension where innocence teeters on the cusp of naughtiness,” but I’m not buying it. With an MFA from UCLA, I have to believe Ms. Brown knows precisely what she’s doing here. These artworks are, in my opinion quite intentionally, executed in the slick, glowing and vacuous style of the manufactured oil paintings sold in shopping malls to people who neither know nor care about art, the crowd that’s made Thomas Kincade a ridiculously wealthy, powerful and Pooh-defiling man.

But whereas Kincade’s work is designed for a decidedly middle-class, even Southern and Christian, crowd — see for example his painting NASCAR Thunder- The 50th Running of the Daytona 500 — Brown has targeted the upper middle-class and wealthy collector, obviously the kind more likely to amble into a Chelsea gallery.

Much to my amusement, her marketing is even more refined than that; these are images of mothers and daughters, or images of young girls, but all designed to appeal to wealthy mothers.

In every image, girls and their moms luxuriate in a world of satin sheets, high fashion (for the most part), pearls, pricey bathroom fixtures, primpy lapdogs and chi-chi bistros. It’s as if Ms. Brown has tapped into a market of wealthy mothers with absolutely no art sophistication whatsoever, who want mall-quality honey-dripping oil paintings that relate to their self-important, Mabelline lives.

For me Brown’s project comes off as a brilliant ploy by a masterful artist with a broad, sophisticated understanding of art and society. Its conceptual component is heavily salted with the smiling sort of contempt that steams from the disenfranchised, and Brown’s feeding of these images to this market sounds more than a little like Tyler Durden’s “Fight Club” formula of selling wealthy women soap made from their own lyposuctioned fat.

In the past, artists devised strategies to avoid commodification, often effacing and even removing aesthetic considerations in the process. It fascinates me to find an artist who makes commodification her plaything, and, aided by manifestly manipulative aesthetics, integrates it into a sweet yet caustic body of work.

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