How to choose a frame for a Rothko print?
August 25, 2008 2:55 PM   Subscribe

What kind of frame should I use for a print of this Mark Rothko?

So I just got a high quality print of Mark Rothko, "Untitled (no. 16) 1950" from the Tate Modern, measuring about 5 x 2.5 feet (or 150 x 75 cm if you prefer). It's to go into a pretty bland office space, mainly to add some colour.

I'm hoping to go to a framer and give him some ideas as to how I'd like it framed. But - here's the rub - I don't know how it should be framed and I'd like (for once) not to say "Do what you think is best." So: colours, materials, width of frame ... what should I aim for?
posted by pines to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
I bought this exact print from the Tate Modern and had it on my wall during university. I remembered reading somewhere that Rothko hated having his work framed (and I'd never seen any of his work framed in galleries) so I took the print to a framer and had it mounted on thick stock, with a wire strung behind it for easy hanging.
posted by meerkatty at 3:06 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd kind of go along with 'meerkatty' but I tend to like framing things between panes of glass. It's pricey, but it usually looks nice and doesn't detract from the artwork. I don't have any idea of whether Rothko was opposed to frames or the idea of framing - but in this case, I think most typical frames would detract from or alter perception of the piece. If I had to use a frame, I'd probably go with something very mild - thin, white and modern or thin, clean and pine. No ornamentation.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:27 PM on August 25, 2008

Not that it's Rosko's aesthetic, but I've had some luck with the pretentiously-named Posterhänger.
posted by Mmmmmm at 3:41 PM on August 25, 2008

I have Rothko's Yellow Orange Blue mounted on a Plak-It board. It's a much better alternative to a frame, especially for this kind of piece. It doesn't look at all "laminated" which is the term they use on the site. It actually looks like straight paint right on canvas, unless you get right up close. I like that you can pick an edge color, although the color I have on mine is black -- it doesn't show when you look at it straight on. It's very professional. Unfortunately I can't seem to access the "Find a Plak-It Dealer in Your Area" page, but you might want to call their main office to see if they'll do a print as large as yours.

No matter what kind of frame you decide to get, if you get it professionally mounted make sure to tell them which side is up. I know this from experience (not with Plak-It, but another similar company).
posted by k8lin at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2008

Agreed. Rothko's generally look best frameless. If you can find a borderless/frameless plexiglass cover for the piece, I'd go with that (it would look like how it does in the link you provided).
posted by iamkimiam at 4:34 PM on August 25, 2008

Nthing the suggestion that you not frame it. Rothko's works are not meant to be framed.
posted by trip and a half at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: I used to do framing professionally, so here are my thoughts.

If this were an oil-on-canvas original, you could dispense with the framing and just have it wired for hanging. A few commenters mentioned that Rothko preferred his works unframed, but since this is a reproduction on paper you will need to have it framed in order to protect it from dust and damage.

Have the framer dry-mount the piece to foam core. This will flatten the print and make it more visually appealing and easier to look at because there will be no waviness in the paper to give off uneven light reflections.

Next, have the white border around the image trimmed off. Reproductions are printed on a bright white paper stock that keeps the colors vivid. This white border has nothing to do with the piece and its brightness is distracting to the eye. Also, since this is a fairly large piece, it might save a bit of money on the final framing cost by lessening the size.

Since this is a reproduction, you don't need to worry about archival framing, which is more costly because it uses acid-free materials, etc. Consequently, you can have it framed with the glass right on top of the print. If this were an original signed Rothko print, you would need a mat or a frame spacer to keep the glass off the print. Mats were invented for that purpose, because glass placed directly on paper leads to "foxing" which are little brown spots of moisture that build up over time.

You do need a real frame, not just a sheet of glass "clipped" on. Why? First, glass has very sharp edges and it's easy to cut yourself when handling a large piece like this or simply by bumping into it. There are ready-made glass clip frames, and the glass for them is rounded on the edges to prevent injury, but they only come in standard (smaller) sizes and yours is not a standard-size or small piece.

Second, a frame will provide holding strength to the whole finished "package," preventing your piece from bowing or warping.

So what kind of frame? I recommend a Nielsen metal frame. It doesn't have to be Nielsen, but if you tell your framer that's what you have in mind they will have either that or an equivalent moulding. The larger the piece, the heavier it will be when glass is included. You need something strong enough to hold it all together. Also, you can keep the "face" of the frame very thin and minimalistic. As long as a metal moulding is "deep" enough, even if it is only 1/2" on the surface, it will be strong enough. Make sure your framer helps you find a strong enough solution.

As for color, you can get a neutral gray or brushed black. You can also focus on the darkest color in the piece itself and find a similar frame color that is a shade or two darker.

Now for glass. You can choose to go with plexiglas, which is lighter in weight. But it costs more and you will need a special cleaner, not glass cleaner. If your office has lots of natural light and/or fluorescent light, I strongly recommend that you use a UV-proof glass or plexi. UV light rays fade artwork pretty quickly, and it would be a shame to skimp on that only to see your piece fade out in a year.

Hanging. Have it wired for TWO HOOKS. I cannot stress this enough. Why? Well, frame shops make a lot of their income from repairing damaged pieces. If one hook gives way, the other one will prevent the piece from crashing to the floor. If that happens, you'll have to pay for the whole thing again. Also, two hooks makes it easier to keep your artwork level.

If you do find that this is all too involved and costly, you can have the piece mounted to gatorboard and wired for hanging. Gatorboard, unlike foam core, will not warp (foam core, without the holding structure of a frame, will warp almost immediately).

Hope this helps.
posted by lipstick bookworm at 5:48 PM on August 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the advice. Hadn't realised that Rothko preferred not to frame his work, and I certainly wasn't thinking of no frame or a minimalist frame, but that's what I'm gonna go for. Great advice all round to a first-time question-asker!
posted by pines at 1:38 AM on August 26, 2008

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