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The art of hanging

How to hang a work of art without turning your wall into Swiss cheese?

How to hang a work of art without turning your wall into Swiss cheese?
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Olivier Bellotto

Olivier Bellotto joined Renault in 1984 as an apprentice. He obtained a CAP in heavy vehicle mechanics and a mention in diesel mechanics. He joined Harsch in July 2001 as a driver/remover. For several years, he has been a fine art technician, working in the art department.

Hanging a work of art in your home can be as technical as hanging it in a museum. Several criteria need to be considered in great detail, such as the nature of the work of art, its framing or its surroundings. Once the technique has been chosen, it is all a question of detail.

 To hang a work of art on a wall is… an art in itself. Technique, dexterity and precision are essential. Paintings, plates, sculptures, chandeliers or works in neon, those are the types of objects that Harsch are asked to place. For Olivier Belloto, who has been working as a technician in the works of art unit for 15 years, the first step is to go on site.

He studies the work of art and its framing before choosing the best means to hang it on the wall. He also looks carefully at the place where it will be hung and at the surroundings. To check, for instance, if there is another object below. He also notes if special means are needed to bring the object into the premises. “We work in teams of two, three or even four people, depending on the quantity of works of art or their weight. Sometimes, the location itself calls for a bigger team. Hanging a painting in a staircase can be quite acrobatic!”

In a museum or in a private house, a meticulous job

Depending on the size, the weight and for a painting, the nature of the frame, the work of art will be hung using a wire, eyelets or rings. If the painting is wider than 40 or 50 centimetres or weighs more than 5 or 6 kilos, rings are the most appropriate.

Together with giving a good impression, Olivier Bellotto has to do a neat job. He describes the level of precision needed to hang a valuable painting properly: “We hold up the painting and with the client, we choose the height at which the painting is to be placed. We then fix some scotch tape underneath to mark the limit. After that, we copy its dimensions on the wall, we calculate where the middle of the painting is and we measure the centre-to-centre distance between the two rings on the painting. Then, we divide the dimension by two, we place some marks and we check that the painting is perfectly horizontal.”

Below the painting, the technicians stick an envelope to collect the dust caused by the drill. The work of art is hung with a flat head screw or an L-shaped hook.

The same precision applies in museums. The only difference is that most often, it is the museum that calculates the height of the central axis of the painting. The technicians then use a laser to place the painting precisely.

Chemical anchoring, French cleats or chair rails

According to Olivier Bellotto, “To hang very heavy objects, we use the system of chemical anchoring. This technique is used for bronze plates, for instance, or for imposing sculptures. The measurements are taken in the same way. But after that, we drill into the wall, usually a concrete wall, we inject some expansive glue into the mesh, followed by the threaded rod. You leave it to dry. And it ready.”

Another technique is using French cleats. A wooden moulding with tapered angles is fixed to the wall. The same cleats are fixed on the back of the painting, but with reversed angles. The two parts match perfectly. The heavier the painting, the more holes will be drilled to distribute its weight.

Finally, using chair rails is very useful in places where the paintings are changed regularly. In banks, for instance. The chair rails are fixed on the wall, very close to the ceiling. Cables hang from them. It is then very easy to remove a painting without leaving holes in the wall.

Besides the technical aspect of his job, Olivier maintains good relationships with his clients. “The clients need to be able to trust me immediately.” His only preoccupation is to satisfy them.

Mission accomplished, undoubtedly, as Harsch is renowned for its professionalism.