Guidelines for Handling & Packaging artworks
Works on Canvas

While almost all works on canvas are sensitive, oil paintings are especially sensitive works due to the type of medium. The paint layer can take up to a year to fully dry, especially if impasto (thick application of paint where it creates a 3D effect) technique is employed. Even if the painting appears dry on the surface, in many cases the paint doesn't fully dry under the surface. Poor handling and packaging can damage the work.

Basic terminology:

  1. Recto - Front side of the painting.
  2. Verso - Backside of the painting.
  3. Stretcher - Think of it like a skeleton. It is the wooden frame that the canvas is stretched on, giving shape to the canvas, keeping it taut and safe. An unstretched painting, if not stored carefully, may develop cracks.
  4. Frame - A frame is attached on the outside of the canvas. It is for aesthetic and in certain cases protective purposes and is optional.
  5. Paint layer - The painted surface of the work.

For preventive care of oil paintings in storage, please refer to the following guidelines:

  1. Please ensure that the work is installed at a location that is away from all direct sources of light and water.
  2. The temperature of the room should be maintained between 20-25 degree Celsius.
  3. Always wear gloveswhen handling the work. Even if hands are washed thoroughly, the natural oils on hands/fingers can cause staining on the work - especially in the case of white or light-coloured canvases.
  4. Avoid touching the recto (front) of the work. Packed or unpacked, the painting must always be handled from the verso (back) side using the stretcher or the frame.
  5. Use soft brushes to clean the recto. Soft, wide brushes may be used to clean the dust off the painting. This is to be done under guidance. Do not apply too much pressure or you may end up puncturing the canvas itself. Such dry cleaning of the canvas can be done once every 7 to 10 days.
  6. Keep the works covered, at least with plastic, when not on active display. The accumulation of surface dust on the work leads to fungus at later stages. To prevent this, keep the works covered to avoid any environmental dust settling on it.
  7. Do not use soapy water/detergents/household cleaning agents. Galleries work with artists using modern materials and do not recommend using these cleaning agents on the paint layer. What might appear to work today, it is difficult to predict how it will react with the materials after 2/5/10 years. Please contact the Archive team or a professional restorer/conservator if you have queries about cleaning the artwork.
  8. For works prone to fungus, it is recommended to stick two-three silica gel packs on the stretcher surface on the back with masking tape. Silica helps in offsetting relative humidity. Please ensure that the silica packets are stuck on the stretcher surface and not on the canvas.

For safe packaging, please refer to the following guidelines:

  1. Clean the painting before it is packed. The surface should not have dust or dirt on it as it can be abrasive and lead to fungus if the work is not stored properly/opened immediately at the client's location.
  2. Check the paint layer. Directly wrapping the painting with a plastic may cause the plastic to stick to the paint layer which will cause damage to the work. Tyvek is a safe and non- abrasive material which may be used as the first layer for packaging. It is inert, water- proof, durable, and allows for the artwork to breathe. Even if the painting is left packed for a long duration, Tyvek ensures its safety.
  3. The plastic can be used as the second layer. Since galleries uses plastic as a short term material, it is safe for the art work. However, for long term purposes, plastic can be replaced with a safer material known as Mylar/Melinex in the market. Mylar is an inert (does not react) thermoplastic (safe from excessive heat, does not burn easily) that is used in museums around the world for long term and safe packaging solutions.
  4. If a painting is not getting crated, corners should be made for prevention. Corners ensure that the painting is safe from any sudden physical impact and allows for safer handling.
  5. If ever required, a sheet of corrugated plastic sheet may be screwed on the back of the painting to avoid dust from settling onto the canvas directly. While it prevents the work from environmental dust, it does add a little bit of extra weight to it.
  6. Finally, bubble wrap may be used. For prevention, the bubbles should always be kept on the outside.
  7. Silica gel packets can be kept with the work in the crate as well. This will help in offsetting the effects of relative humidity even if the work is not unpacked immediately.
Works on Paper

Works on paper can be extremely fragile and are prone to damage if not handled/packed properly. These may be framed or unframed and with different mediums on paper - watercolour, prints, mixed media, etc.

For preventive care in storage, please refer to the following guidelines:

  1. Use gloves. Avoid touching white, unframed artworks on paper with bare hands. It stains easily and if it is a watercolour, it is difficult to remove these stains without compromising the artwork.
  2. Keep it covered. Do not store these without any cover. If there's a stack of works on paper, keep a separator (for long term use, Japanese Kozo tissue may be used) between each of them. For short term use, butter paper is fine. However, if it remains packed for over 1.5 months, the butter paper should be changed. Butter paper is essentially made for cooking, has a low pH value thus making it acidic. While it may be able to resist a certain degree of humidity, it can harm the paper of the work in the long run.
  3. Do not make an attempt to clean it. Please contact the Archive team or a professional conservator/restorer.
  4. Please avoid using pens/pencils/any sharp objects near the work.
  5. If the size of the work is large and it is unframed, carry it on a solid base (like a thermocol sheet bigger than the artwork).
  6. If it is a photographic print and unframed, please do not touch the gelatinous side with bare hands. If this side of the work is ever damaged, it is not possible to fix it.

For safe packaging, please refer to the following guidelines:

  1. Clean the work before it is packed. The surface should not have dust or dirt on it as it can be abrasive and lead to fungus if the work is not stored properly/opened immediately at the client's location.
  2. For unframed works - Tyvek sleeves/ folders can be made according to the dimension of the work for a safe packaging method.
  3. If unframed, a small strip of Tyvek may be cut and placed under the artwork so the person taking it out of its packaging doesn't have to touch the artwork and can use this strip to raise it.
  4. If being shipped over a longer distance, add two-three packets of silica gel in the packaging to offset relative humidity and to prevent the work from fungus.
  5. For framed work - corners may be made to prevent the work from physical damage in movement.
Sculptures and Installations

Sculptures and installations will have different care and packaging requirements based on dimensions, material, etc, however some basic guidelines can be applied to all of them.

For preventive care in storage, please refer to the following guidelines:

  1. Keep the work covered. When not on active display, it must be ensured that the work is covered and protected.
  2. Do not drag the work. If the work is to be moved, do not drag it as it causes scratches and may lead to further damage. In cases like these, the artist has to be asked to repaint the sculpture. Best to avoid dragging the work completely.
  3. If the sculpture does not have a flat base, it must be ensured that all small parts of the base are well protected. Either a big piece of foam should be used or if the work is on some kind of a pedestal, pieces of foam should be used for padding for smaller protruding parts. It is these small parts that end up getting damaged easily and the most.
  4. Use gloves while handling. Best to avoid fingerprint marks as much as possible.
  5. Do not handle the artwork from sensitive areas. Some installation works will have small protruding parts - do not handle the works from these parts as they may break off.
  6. Do not use water/any cleaning agent directly on the artwork. For queries about cleaning any work, please contact someone from the Archive team.

For safe packaging, please refer to the following guidelines:

  1. Clean the work before it is packed. The surface should not have dust or dirt on it as it can be abrasive. Soft brushes or microfiber cloth may be used for this.
  2. If the work has small protruding parts, they may be wrapped separately. In some cases, the artist prefers their work to not be packed with a lot of material. For other artists, discretion must be made according to the type of work.
  3. Bubble wrap and plastic can be used on the Tyvek. The bubbles must be kept on the outside of the packaging.
  4. If you notice the paint layer peeling/bubbling, please do not use packaging material directly on top of that. It may cause the paint layer to de-adhere.
  5. If the installation work comes with any special screws or other parts, please pack them with the artwork and label them accordingly. A layer of padding of foam must be present in the final crate between these parts and the work so they do not cause damage.
  6. If any cloth is to be used for packaging in the future, muslin may be used. It's lightweight and safe.