Framing serves many purposes, most of them, decorative and/or protective. If you acquire a piece of art on paper, you will probably want it framed. However, some purists continue to keep works on paper in drawers, pulling them out now and then to look. If you want it on the wall however, you must frame it, and the frame’s primary purpose here is protective. Of course, you will also want it to enhance the look of your art.
If you care at all about the work, you will need to have it framed archivally. This simply means that materials used in the frame will not damage the art in a reasonable amount of time. Most framers in the 21st Century understand this principal, but some are far more experienced than others. For example, the adhesive hinges that hold the art onto the mat are probably archival, but what about the water that activates the glue? Distilled water is the proper method, but a forgetful or lazy framer might simply lick the back of the strip. The enzymes in one’s saliva will eventually cause harm to the back of the art. Slight risk, but if it’s a Rembrandt etching, you will care.
Not to get bogged down in all the chemistry of archival materials, but think about the tapes, paper, fabrics, stapes, glues, glass, backing materials, and the moulding itself that make up a frame. Each can cause or reduce harm to the art. You will generally want to put glass or acrylic that has a UV coating. This reduces the amount of destructive UV light that hits the artwork. But remember, nothing will completely protect art from direct sunlight (sun right on the art). And over time, even the best materials can lose their effectiveness. Moisture, pollution, smoke, and mold spores can work their way into the inner frame and begin to damage the art. If the work is precious, and the conditions in your home are smoky, polluted, or have wide temperature and humidity swings, have the work inspected every 5 to 10 years.
In many cases, you do not have to frame an oil painting. If it’s on canvas for example, and you don’t mind looking at the edges (many artists paint the edges so it looks good), put it on the wall and enjoy it. If the work is on wood or panel, you will have to frame it.
Deciding the style of a frame can be difficult and possibly overwhelming. Frames are expensive, and you want to get it right. Think about what you are trying to accomplish and your job will be easier. Use the existing decor of your home as a guide: a lot of wood, stone, warm, cold, sterile, cozy, what frames to you have now that you like. Then try to fit the style to the existing art. Take a photo, or bring a frame you like to the framer. Sometimes this won’t work, as it doesn’t compliment your new work of art, but it will help the framer understand your taste so he can come up with suggestions.
If you don’t know a framer, ask your gallery, friends, or museum to recommend one. And be open to ideas, framers can be very skilled designers as well, and may come up with something beautiful and unexpected. But remember, start with the basics – an archival frame that won’t damage the art and will protect it.
This is a personal preference as an art dealer constantly handling art: I prefer acrylic (Plexiglas) whenever possible. It is lighter, clearer, and safer for shipping. Its downside is that it is easily scratched, more difficult to care for, and slightly more expensive. But if you have a work framed in glass and it falls off the wall, your art is probably seriously damaged. With acrylic, you will just have a broken frame. One warning: you must frame pastels with glass, the static from acrylic can pull the pastel off the paper.
When in doubt, ask your framer or gallery what they recommend.