Handling artwork - When to wear gloves
15 August 2013
When handling any artwork it is important to ensure that you are aware when gloves are required and which type of gloves are the safest to use. We recommend handling certain types of fine art with clean cotton or polymer gloves. When handling artwork without gloves, it is important to ensure that your hands are clean and dry and that you are not wearing any jewellery or nail varnish. Artworks should not be handled if you have recently applied hand cream.
When to wear gloves
Gloves should be worn when the risk of physical or chemical damage to an artwork is greater than the risk of potential damage caused by gloves. The following types of artwork should always be handled with suitable gloves:
• Almost all types of photography including silver gelatin prints, silver albumen prints, digital prints and salted paper prints. Many photographs are particularly vulnerable to chemical change
• Artworks where media extends to the edge of the paper. This is to guard against media loss and the transference of media from one area of an artwork to another
• Artworks with very matt or very glossy media (e.g. Andy Warhol screen prints). Finger prints on these types of media are almost impossible to remove. Metallic effect inks are also very vulnerable to chemical change
• Artworks with friable media (e.g. charcoal) which could crumble and detach from the artwork surface should be handled away from areas of media using polymer gloves
• Gloves should be worn if an artwork is expected to receive a lot of handling rather than the very limited contact to which an artwork is exposed during framing
Why might gloves not be worn?
Wearing gloves when handling fine art is not always the safest option. The fibres in cotton gloves can carry a risk of snagging on artworks. They also do not block the transfer of water vapour from the skin while, in contrast, polymer gloves cannot be worn constantly since they do not allow the skin to breath. Wearing gloves can also slightly affect manual dexterity which itself may present a danger when handling extremely delicate artworks. It is important to judge every piece on a case by case basis.
When to wear gloves
Cotton gloves should always be worn when handling the following frame types to prevent finger prints and smudging:
• Gilded frames
• Gesso frames
• Welded aluminium and brass frames
• Acrylic boxes
Polymer gloves should always be worn when handling the following frame types to prevent dirt from transferring onto the surface:
• Sprayed white frames
When not to wear gloves
The following frame types can be handled safely with clean hands:
• Stained wooden frames
• Sprayed wooden frames (not white)