Art and its setting must work together


An artwork's value in the marketplace should have little to do with its placement in the home. Of course, someone who has spent a large sum of money on a painting will feel a natural inclination to display it as prominently as possible. But this understandable tendency to show off an expensive new acquisition may actually cause it to be seen in less than its full glory. What's more, the inappropriate placement of artwork can easily wreck a room's entire design.

To take a somewhat far-fetched example, a beach house bedroom is probably not the right place to hang an allegorical oil painting by Rubens. In interior design -- as in many other fields -- I've learned, however, never to say never. So maybe a 15-by-12-foot Rubens would look just fine in an unusually designed beach house bedroom. After all, more than a few 18th-century European homes now contain non-objective late 20th-century paintings.

Most Americans, however, would probably choose something in between a Rubens-like Baroque extravaganza and, say, a Pollock-style canvas covered with splotches and splatters. Art is usually chosen to please -- and for many people that means a painting or sculpture that doesn't make a lot of demands.

For decorators and designers, meanwhile, a major criterion in selecting a piece of art is how well it enhances the design of a particular space.

Getting back to our humble but fashionable beach house, the photo suggests how a work of art might be appropriately displayed in such a setting.

This small bedroom has a small space for a chair next to a sliding glass door leading to a terrace. An antique Japanese carrying box is placed alongside the director's chair, which is made of black-stained rattan with a canvas seat. The box itself, which certainly qualifies as a work of art, is lacquered in red and black.

Although the wall space between the sliding door and the entrance to a bathroom is not even 5 feet wide, this corner is made to look important by the arrangement of the chair, the carrying box, and the red, white and black lithograph hanging on the wall.

As I hope is evident from this illustration, the art and furnishings play off one another to form an interesting, integrated composition. Form, color and line are cleverly combined here to create a successful design.

The cost of the lithograph -- and of the antique box, for that matter -- is incidental to the design. What matters most is that the art contributes to a good-looking ensemble.

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