267 Church Street, Richmond 3121

P: (03) 9427 0140


Something Old, Something New

— Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Finding the best way to displaying modern art in traditional homes can be a tricky business, but a considered approach will reap stylish rewards as gallery owner CHARLES NODRUM tells ARIANA FABRIS
As Published in The Period Home Renovators Magazine for 2016

Charles Nodrum Gallery in Richmond was established in 1984 and today runs an exhibition program covering a variety of media and styles, from painting and sculpture to graphics and photography. A qualified art valuer with an interest in the abstract and alternative art movements from the 1950s onwards, Charles shares some practical advice on how to make the most of modern art amongst the traditional features of your period home.


Period Home Renovator: Are there any obvious dos and don’ts when it comes to displaying modern art in a period home?

Charles: The first thing to remember is that period houses often have powerful design features that can be distracting – extensive detailing in cornices, dadoes and panelling can create competition with the paintings. It might be necessary to downplay certain features to allow the artwork to shine. Our gallery is a 19th century building but those decorative features have been minimised with flat white paint, so whilst you do see them they don’t ‘shout out’ at you. Boldly decorative wallpapers are also common in period homes, which can be risky when displaying modern art.


PHR: What would you recommend?

Charles: I’ll give you an example. My own house is Federation era, and we have a deep red dining room with a black and white painting on one wall. The black and white provides a strong contrast to the coloured background, so it stands out. Some of our other paintings have wide frames, which visually separates them from the wall. The important thing is to keep the painting independent from its background because attempts to match colours can look dreadful – like hanging a red painting on a red wall, for example.


PHR: What about large, contemporary artworks that don’t have frames?

Charles: If you’re going to have that ‘colour competition’, you will probably have to paint your walls white. As far as I’m concerned white walls remain the safest option – regardless of the building’s date.


PHR: Can elements like colourful stained-glass windows also compete with artworks?

Charles: They can if they’re colouring the light. We have a skylight here in the gallery which is made of plain glass. If it were coloured we’d be in trouble because it would cast coloured patches all over the walls during the day and I couldn’t exhibit paintings satisfactorily under those circumstances. Not only would the artists complain, I would feel uncomfortable myself because it would disturb the look of the painting. So if you have coloured glass at home you may need to tread with care if you have paintings hanging nearby.


PHR: What sorts of tools would you recommend when it comes to hanging art?

Charles: You really need to take it item by item and if you’re unsure there are professional hangers who will do this job for you. If you’ve got a very expensive work of art you don’t want to risk having it incorrectly hung on the

wall. You owe it to yourself and the artist to display the work clearly and safely. That said, most Victorian and Federation

houses have hard plaster walls and so you can insert picture hooks reasonably safely and hang small or light pictures. Heavier paintings are going to need a different system. Many houses of that vintage have picture rails, so you can use those. The gallery had picture rails when I came but, as usual, they were about two-thirds of the way up the wall so

I had them taken out and reinstalled closer to the ceiling to leave the wall as clear as possible. The space around your artworks needs to be as clear and clean as possible. While picture rails do tend to break up the wall, they are safe and

strong and should be able to handle paintings of almost any weight. There are various options too, such as rods or wires. Rods are acceptable commercially because they’re very efficient, but for houses, wires are preferable because they’re narrower and less visible. Professional hangers will install modern metal picture rails, which are both physically strong and visually discreet.


PHR: What would you recommend when it comes to illuminating artworks?

Charles: You can buy spotlights on tracks, but for domestic purposes, people tend to prefer recessed lights that are set into the ceiling because they’re visually less intrusive. You do need to be careful with installation, however; sometimes you find they’re placed too far back which means that they can’t be tilted enough to satisfactorily illuminate the

art. It’s best to talk to a lighting consultant in this case. Picture lights are individual lights attached to the painting. They have fallen from grace because not only are they difficult and expensive to install, they tend to light the top of the picture and not the bottom. The old incandescent variety also used to get quite hot, so you ran the risk of ‘cooking’ the



PHR: What are the risks of exposing artworks to direct sunlight?

Charles: As a general rule, direct sunlight is dangerous. That applies to all art, but particularly works on paper. You can destroy a watercolour if you leave it in bright sunlight for too long; it will just fade completely. The other issue is heat, especially for oil paintings. The traditional wisdom was that you never hung an oil painting above a fireplace

because in those days, fires were lit every day in winter and remained alight for months on end. This could have a detrimental effect because the rising heat risks drying out the paint which would then start to crack; this is in turn undermines the value of the work. It’s less of an issue now because houses have central heating. We have an oil painting above a fireplace at home but we don’t use it much; the fire is basically for decorative purposes on

special occasions.


PHR: What if you want to display multiple pieces of art?

Charles: Certainly our 19th century forebears were quite happy to hang lots of pictures on a wall – which is now referred to as a ‘salon hang’. Again, that’s something you have to do by eye. You just need to ensure there is a certain amount of coherence, or some sort of continuity in what you display.


PHR: Can a contemporary artwork with very bright colours or strong geometric shapes work in a period home?

Charles: You may find that a more organic or painterly type of work will fit better in a traditional house than a geometric abstract work, but it will also depend on the furnishing and the general ambience. If you have an older house but own predominantly modern furniture, then a geometric painting will probably sit quite comfortably. If, on the other hand, you have older style furniture, you may find that an early modernist artist such as Fred Williams or Godfrey Miller – whose work is usually heavily abstracted but landscape-based or landscape-inspired – will look better. In the end it all depends on where your comfort zone is and of course, on personal taste.


PHR: Finally, do you think it’s okay to mix modern art pieces with traditional works?

Charles: It’s always a touchy issue as to which picture hangs well next to another, and that applies across the board – both in style and in time. Of course, there is nothing stopping you hanging a contemporary abstract painting beside a 17th century still life if you want, although for many people it can cause a jarring effect. It’s no accident that museums

hang paintings next to their contemporaries. Personally I’m very careful about what goes beside what, but it’s more about a feeling. I don’t have any rules; I just play it by eye. PHR

Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.