Monday, August 17, 2009

Some Guidelines For Hanging an Exhibit

Recently a friend emailed to ask for any tips I might have on hanging a group exhibit and as I spent a part of this weekend unpacking boxes of artwork for TAG's California Open Exhibit (which starts this week), I got to thinking of some of the hanging methods I use. I've hung dozens of exhibits over the years, my own as well as group shows. What follows covers only some of the basic technical aspects rather than the aesthetics of layout.

You will need:


A hammer

Picture hanging hooks of various sizes for different weights. A very large, heavy painting may use two hooks for extra support.

Wall putty, or earthquake putty.

Extra picture wire just in case.

Measuring tape, measuring stick.


A big eraser.

Plexi cleaner or Windex.

A bit of white paint acrylic might be good to have on hand, assuming the walls are white. Many galleries keep some of whatever they use on hand for wall prep.

Wall spackle to fill any hole mistakes. I use the pre mixed quick dry kind.

Make sure that the artwork is wired to hang - no glass, just plexi on framed work.

Make sure that the artwork is labeled on the back. If it is a group show - or for any reason you are not familiar with the work it also helps if there is an index card on the front with name, title, medium and price. If you are using wall labels you can speed up the process for a group show by having the artists submit the info in advance so it can be typed into the label format so it's all ready to print out and stick on the wall. I use Avery 8663 Easy Peel. If you use wall labels than you don't have to fuss with numbers.

Arrange the work around the space, I usually lean the work against the wall about where I'll want it to be. I measure the linear wall space and add up the artwork width and subtract that from the linear space. I then divide that number by how many pieces there are to know the spacing between.

There are several methods of aligning the work on the wall. When I'm hanging mid to large scale work in a home I like to align the top edge with the top edges of windows and doorways. Another way to have a uniform look is to center each painting on the wall at eye level (eye level may be from 60 to 65 inches - but pick a number and stick with it).

The formula is eye level measurement + half the painting height minus the space from wire to top edge = place for nail or support placement.

I usually do all my planning and calculations in advance so that I don't have to spend a lot of time futzing around on hanging day. So going by the formula if a painting is 18 x 24" then 18 inches is the height. That means the center is at 9". All you have to do to find the place for the nail is to add the 9 inches (or one half of whatever the painting's height) to your eye level number - let's say you decide that eye level is 60", then add 9". Then subtract the distance from the center of the hanging wire to the top of the painting and that's the measurement for placement of the nail (or hanging support). So if the painting is wired three inches from the top the nail or support is at 66". In other words the formula is: eye level (60") plus half the height (9") less wire to top edge (3") = nail or support placement (66"). When I am hanging my shows I do all the math beforehand and put that number on masking tape and stick it on the painting.

After nailing the supports in the wall, hang and check the work with the level, then put a dab of wall putty on the bottom corner between the artwork and the wall.


Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Wow - what a comprehensive description of how to hang artwork for an exhibit. Thank you!

Kathryn Hansen said...

hey katherine...since you are talking about galleries here. been reading a lot on both blogs and in books about entering gallery competitions.have you found it beneficial (as it leads to more shows) or just a good resume builder for you. for me, in the past, it was just a good resume builder. would love to hear your opinion!


Anonymous said...

Great info! Thanks so much, your formulas really helped me (I never seem to get the nails in the right place). Awesome.

Dianne Poinski said...

Thanks for all of this information Katherine!

I knew there was a mathimatical formula for hanging art but you explained it so clearly.

I usually have a ton of holes all in the same general area, trying to get it right.

So thank you again!

Katherine Kean said...

Thanks Bonnie!

Katherine Kean said...


I think it does help, particularly if the gallery holding the competition is one that is a good fit for your work. Winning awards is also good for your resume and is good for sales.

It can get expensive, since these competitions almost always charge a fee. So pick judiciously the ones you are going to enter.

Katherine Kean said...

Thanks Robin, thanks Dianne!

Kim Bennett said...

Thank you Katherine for the effort you put into this post and the mathematical formula. I knew that there would be a science to it. I save a copy for future reference. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Unknown said...

Interesting and helpful - would you group artists work together, or do you mix it up?

Katherine Kean said...

Hi Chris - thanks for stoppping by. That's an excellent question and I don't have a single answer. For me it depends on how many artists, how many pieces for each, and the space the artwork will be hanging in, whether the artwork relates to the other work by theme, or color, material or content. Often in a two or three artist show it seems to make sense to keep each artist's works together, however I've seen some beautiful three and four person exhibitions with the artwork interspersed.

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