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Hello, darkness, my old friend

February 7, 2017 // by Jonathan Duck

When you come to MOCA Jacksonville over the next few months, you might notice that the third floor looks a little dark. When you arrive, it might be wise to give yourself a moment to let your eyes adjust as you walk off the very bright elevator and into the dimly lit gallery space. As you walk around you might ask yourself, “What is going on? Is there something wrong with the power?” Nope, the lights are set exactly how we intended them to be. You might wonder, “Why would you do that? Now the art is just harder to see.” Well, you're right about it being harder to see, but there is a very specific reason that we have done this, and I had briefly discussed it before in my post about our brand new lights (which just turned one year old).

Hans Hofmann Works on Paper Lighting a
Low lighting in the galleries for Hans Hofmann: Works on Paper helps preserve the artworks. Image courtesy of Dennis Ho.

First, I should talk a little bit about how the Museum gets work into an exhibition. At MOCA Jacksonville, we pride ourselves on “self-curating” a large majority of our exhibitions. This means we come up with the concept for each exhibition on our own, then we look for artwork that fits well within that concept to create the show. To accomplish this,  we must develop close relationships with other museums, galleries, and private collectors, so we can request to borrow artworks they own to put in our exhibitions. Some “lenders,” as they are called, have very clear instructions on how the art is to be cared for while it is in our building. These instructions can include many variables about the space, but one, in particular, is the amount of light that hits the surface of the piece. Since we are the temporary caretakers of an artwork, we want to ensure we comply with the instructions provided by the lenders.

Hans Hofmann Works on Paper Lighting b
Although a few paintings are on display, most of the Hans Hofmann exhibition features works on paper. Image courtesy of Dennis Ho.

Second, since the exhibition Hans Hofmann: Works on Paper almost entirely comprises artworks on paper (go figure), and paper is one of the most delicate mediums, we must ensure we take very good care of all the pieces in the exhibition. Paper can be adversely affected by the amount of light that strikes the surface. Light is an “electromagnetic wave.” It is very similar to the waves that bring you radio stations, take x-ray images of your bones, and even cook your food in the microwave. Light is visible to our eyes, unlike the other waves I just mentioned. However, light does have an invisible partner that can do some real damage to artwork. That partner is referred to as “ultraviolet light” and is another form of an electromagnetic wave that we cannot see but is ever present in our environment. UV is the same light waves that give you a sunburn when you're outside for too long. If they can do that much damage to your skin, just imagine what they could do to some flimsy paper. So to reduce the amount of damage to the artwork from UV rays, some lenders require we display their art with a limited amount of light.

I hope this explanation helps you understand why the lights are so low in our newest exhibition. You will notice this difference once you first enter the gallery, but after a few moments, your eyes will adjust and you should have no problem enjoying the artwork of Hans Hofmann.

Hans Hofmann Works on Paper Lighting c
To reduce the amount of damage to the artwork from UV rays, some lenders require MOCA to display their art with a limited amount of light. Image courtesy of Dennis Ho.

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