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The ABCs of LED

The ABCs of LED

April 6, 2016 // by Jonathan Duck

If you haven't been to MOCA Jacksonville in a few weeks, then obviously, you should come back. However, things might look a little different. You probably won't notice the subtle change. Somehow though, deep down, things will seem strange yet oddly pleasing and comfortable.

What am I talking about? Three little letters-LED. That's right, light bulbs. MOCA Jacksonville has installed LED lights in the large gallery spaces, and I will explain why.

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Preparator Jonathan Duck sees the difference in the quality of light LED bulbs provide. Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

Now I'm going to embody the “nerdy” part of our nerdy chic persona. Being a nerd is big part of my life and typically my role here at the Museum. One of my responsibilities is to understand the ins and outs of “museum lighting design.” This refers to the basic idea that if there is art on the wall or on the floor, you should probably point a light at it. This idea may sound simple (and in practice it truly is), but when you delve into the theory behind it, things get complicated quickly. The topic of lighting in reference to artwork can be quite daunting. This field is  full of reference charts, data points, research papers, seminars, lab tests, and even pictures of light bulbs. I know, exciting stuff. I'll outline a few topics below to help you understand why lighting is so important to what we do.

One of the most important factors to consider when lighting artwork is the quantity of light. There is a delicate balance between providing enough light to allow viewers to see the work and not having so much light that we start to damage the surface of the art. That's right-too much light can slowly ruin some works of art. This damage is permanent and irreparable, so we like to avoid it as much as possible.

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If there is art on the wall or on the floor, you should probably point a light at it. Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

How can one little light bulb destroy a painting or photograph? Ultraviolet radiation. These art annihilators are present in all forms of visible light. They are absolutely unavoidable. So more light means more ultraviolet radiation, which can mean disaster for art. UV (the shortened term) in high quantities can lead to sunburn, cataracts, and even skin cancer in humans, not to mention what it can do to the surface of a James Rosenquist painting. Obviously, a light bulb will never put out enough UV to cause any of these symptoms, but this just shows you how destructive it can be. UV does damage on a cellular level and is impossible to notice until the damage is already done. You've probably seen how colors can fade after exposure to the sun. That's UV radiation. The higher the amount or the more prolonged the exposure, the more damage is done. The next time you visit an art museum and think to yourself, “It sure is dark in here,” you'll know why.

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MOCA Jacksonville has installed LED bulbs throughout the galleries. Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

Not all light bulbs are created equally. Those three letters I mentioned earlier refer to a not-so-new type of light bulb that is starting to become more relevant as the technology gets better. LED lights (short for light emitting diode) use a fancy process called electroluminescence to create light. This is different from your “old style” light bulb which uses incandescence to produce light. The former uses electricity and electrons to produce photons, while the later just heats up a material until it glows. There are strong benefits to electroluminescence. One of those benefits is the absence of large amounts of heat. Since UV radiation is produced by both light and heat, reducing heat in the light emission technique also reduces the amount of UV radiation. Therefore, LED light bulbs are much, much safer for the artwork we display. This allows us to adjust the balance between too little and too much light within the gallery and ultimately create a brighter and easier to see gallery space.

So there you have it: a science lesson wrapped in a conundrum and stuffed into an art gallery. I just explained the tip of the iceberg. I haven't covered the color of light, quality of light, electricity cost, return on investment, or implementation. But now you have a deeper appreciation for the little things here at MOCA Jacksonville. I know that our decision to switch to LEDs will make your experience more comfortable and will help to protect the art for a long time.

Consider yourself “illuminated.”

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An LED diffuser lens provides a wider viewing angle of the light. Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.




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