Museums Are Starting To Use LED Lights To Preserve Their Paintings


For many museums, walking the line between having an open, well-lit space to exhibit their collections and providing conditions for these collections to remain unaffected through time has been difficult. Most museums and art galleries use soft lighting to illuminate their spaces, taking into account the layout of the museum halls and how visible the art is to the viewer.

This, as studies have begun to reveal in the past few years, may not be the best situation for the art pieces themselves – especially pre-19th century oil on canvas work. Vincent Van Gogh's beloved sunflower paintings—symbols of happiness that use a bright chrome yellow—are beginning to diminish from their past vibrancy. This has been widely accepted as a result of strong and often harmful lighting that the work was exposed to, and it doesn't restrict itself to just Van Gogh's choice of yellow.

UV light, the same kind of light that causes sunburns, it seems, is the most unnecessary and harmful kind of light to use in museums. Many museums are opting to replace the incandescent bulbs that light their paintings with LED lights, while still trying to maintain the aesthetic of the older, less-efficient and more harmful bulbs. The only problem with this is that LEDs have to be specifically built to lose their natural glare. According to Wired, there is a collection of metals called a phosphor over every single-color LED light. The combination of metals in the phosphor is able to absorb the LED light in different ways. That being said, engineers can alter the composition of various metals in this combination to achieve a museum's desired aesthetic.

The resulting light from the LED looks pretty close to the traditional halogen lamps that museums used to use. "The difference isn't perceptible," Jens Stenger, a conservationist scientist at Yale University, told Wired. "If you don't have a direct comparison, it's hard to recognize the difference with the naked eye."

This can also open up a vast number of visual possibilities for museum curators, including using these LED lights to replicate sunlight without the energy waste and damage that UV lights provide. In theory, it can also be used to inform the ways in which artists want to create, and then subsequently display, their work.

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