Wednesday, November 25, 2015

thoughts on the art-politics of framing?

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Art Politics, Uncategorized

For anyone wondering why so quiet here lately it is because my painting and other life stuff has stolen me away from my computer over the past week. However, I do have some great plans in the work – an article about Sangram Majumdar that hopefully will include him answering a few questions about his work. I have a number of other posts planned as well. I hope you bear with me as I get this together in the next 2 or 3 days.

What I miss is the lively discussion many of us were starting to get going. While the interview were great, they perhaps had too much information or not the right kind of issues that would be conducive for getting a discussion going. That said, maybe I can start something up just for kicks…

Do you think there is any standard for framing contemporary (ie modern) realist painting as opposed to more traditional or academic realist work? Many larger paintings I’ve seen in galleries of more post-modern paintings, neo-expressionist, abstract and similar often aren’t framed or have something very simple and inexpensive. Of course, there are many exceptions to this and sometimes the frame is all that is worth looking at. But realist work seems to lean towards being professionally framed, of course with a variety of styles. Within the various types of realism, like landscape – you also see differences between frames like the more traditional plein air painting that often use wide often ornate gold frames or black with gold trim. With more contemporary landscape paintings you commonly see a relatively thin floating frame, shadow-box type frame or very thin frame.

I wonder if the thinner frames and floating frames are more popular because of the modern sensibility of wanting to accentuate the flatness the painting as a 2D art object as opposed to the traditional landscape where the painting is a window onto a world and you want a much wider frame to emphasis this illusion and to separate the painting from the surrounding wall as much as possible.

I’m curious to hear how other people frame their paintings and any thoughts about the best way to go with the type of work they do… Maybe we can get into a big ruckus over the conservative vs. liberal framing philosophies!

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10 Responses to “thoughts on the art-politics of framing?”
  1. Chris says:

    I think you’re absolutely right that non-framing is supposed to accent “object-ness”. The great thing about a lot of realist/figurative work is that it can have it both ways—it works as object and as window. I remember the distinct thrill I once had seeing an unframed painting by David Cunningham ( in a storage rack. From the color, shaping and tonal distribution I could make out, I knew I was in for a “magic of painting” experience as soon as I got a good view, but there was something sort of hypnotic about being stuck in that half-way zone, sensing object and image all at once.

    • Larry says:

      I was in group show recently where the organizers of the show required gold frames. At first I felt outraged that they would mandate such a thing, as I dislike gold frames for the same reason Philip said. I don’t want my work to take on an ‘old world’ aura. But I am not yet in a position to be too picky – I want to show my work even if the venues are not ultimately where I want to be. But complaining to my wife didn’t help so I went to a better framer and consulted with him about how I could comply with their requirements but not make me gag. Much to my surprise he showed me this subtle gold leaf – very simple and relatively thinner frame. The cooler muted tones of this gold worked very well with the color scheme in my painting and I felt it made my painting look great. The price tag was a shocker but I went for it anyway. He also showed me what several other gold frames looked like and they were generally loud, brassy and jarring to the color scheme of the painting. I’ve seen a number of good but traditional landscape plein air paintings that are ruined by the frame.

      But for large paintings, I can’t see using much more than what Linda mentions, if any frame at all. But Philip does make a good point about the frame being a bumper. One thing I’ve seen that I find intriguing is when people build their own frames and incorporate the color scheme, design and even the art into the frame as well. This could also serve to accentuate the “object-ness” yet still be connected with the windowed past. I had a teacher once, Paul Rahilly, who would make his own frames – they were wonderful and complimented his work well.

  2. Philip Koch says:


    Sangram Majumdar is an excellent painter (and a friend of mine who teaches at MICA). He’s a good choice for you to feature. Looking forward to it.

    As to the format of your George Nick and other more substantial interviews, they were very good but I felt they were a little harder to absorb due to their length than your usual format. Had I been reading it in printed form I think I wouldn’t have felt that way.

    Framing! Now that’s a topic.
    Couple of comments- if one doesn’t put a frame around the outside edge of a painting it will get chipped in transit. It doesn’t matter how carefully the artist wraps it up. Someone at the other end will be trying to move it along with 2 other pieces at the same time and bingo… Frames are first of all bumper for your paintings.

    I am fascinated by the seeming divide in the realist painting world between academic painters who opt for traditional gold frames and more contemporary realists who avoid them. I’m staunchly in the second group.
    I just don’t like the aura an old fashioned gold frame casts over my work- it feels too reverential to the 19th century for my taste. It is funny as I think of my own painting as an affectionate re-examination of the 19th century panoramic landscape tradition. But I want it to be crystal clear to the view they are looking at a painting from our time.

    But, and it is a BIG but, I have heard from so many artists and dealers that it is just plain easier to sell realist work in gold frames. To be honest, if I hadn’t had the teaching position at MICA over the years to provide much of my income, I might have bitten the bullet and tried exhibiting in the old fashioned frames. It is an experiment I am glad I didn’t have to try.

  3. Linda says:

    My paintings are on the large size and the stretcher strips are 1 1/2″ thick. I do not generally frame the pieces before sending them off to a show. I like the way they stand alone. The galleries I deal with are fine with this presentation. I have numerous friends who also paint large and either they do not frame them, or they put a 1/4″ floater and then a plain black frame. One of my friends uses a floater and then gold frame. Her paintings sell for considerably more then mine and her gallery feels that they need to be framed in gold.

    Philip, I hope you get to READ the George Nick interviews also. I appreciated both versions because I studied with George and was thrilled to have the archive of his voice (thanks again Larry for the wonderful tapes). I talked to George recently and he felt that he needed to edit the phone interviews to better reflect what he was thinking. Therefore the written interviews might come across as more succinct and to the point.

  4. I don’t work on canvas, so I don’t have a real choice as far as ‘to frame or not to frame’, but I do have several galleries that suggest gold and/or handmade frames. I do have to agree with earlier comments that having an ornate classic frame will often drown out and ruin the painting, but I usually prefer not to have the contemporary modern look either.

    I’ve found that most work seems to look nice with something fairly simple w/ subtle corner ornaments – a gold (with patina or wash over to soften) or a champagne silver/gold. …sometimes distressed black w/ soft gold accents. Finished corner frames do look nicer, imho. But, of course, it does depend very much on the work of art itself. …and the taste of the collector that enjoys the painting on their wall for years to come.

  5. Ilaria says:

    I also normally frame most of my paintings in grey floating frames. Apart from the more contemporary look and “objectification” of the picture, I feel that there is also a compositional reason for choosing floating frames.
    It has to do with the edges of the canvas: some times they matter as an element of the design, as the final point of a journey across the image, the last beat of a rhythm. If the picture has been painted with this idea in mind, then I think that the edges should not be covered by the frame.
    For two of my recent portraits instead I recommended that they were framed traditionally as they had an undefined background and I hadn’t particularly worked on the partition of the canvas, rather more on the placing of the head.

    I must say I always loved Picasso’s or Matisse’s paintings in the most luscious antique golden carved frames.

    I am looking forward to the interview with Sangram Majumdar, which is a painter I really admire. I regret not having found the time to join one of his summer courses in Italy. Can you ask him if any old or master or contemporary painter has had a particular influence over him?

  6. AM says:

    I like a gilded frame. I use a very thin, plain and hand-gilded overlay type molding. It reflects light back into the corners of the canvas. I also like antique and plain hardwood frames. Anything hand-made. I loathe the factory-produced stuff. Those ubiquitous “plein air” frames. Yech. Did anyone see the frames for Mark Ryden’s Tree Show? Pretty spectacular. I think they were hand-carved to order in Indonesia. I don’t see anything wrong with a little decorative or sculptural flourish, as long as it’s a work of artisan-ship, suitable and complementary. I think it safe too, to push/pull with the dimensionality. Even the most illusory paintings are inescapably objects.

  7. I like simple frames for my work because I don’t want the frame to look nicer than my paintings! 😀

    Loved listening to the interviews while on the treadmill. Thanks for doing them.

  8. Very interesting! I think you are onto something with the window into another world v. making sure we all know this is a flat object. I just recently blogged on framing myself, is it appropriate to include my link? If so:

  9. Charles Merrill says:

    Over 48 X 48 I don’t frame. I agree, the standard “plein air” frames are bad. However, the high end “plein air” frames $400.00 wholesale are hand carved and water gold leafed and look great.

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