CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Clay Center is putting lots of work into its art gallery, but curator Arif Khan hopes no one will notice.
Workers started last week replacing the gallery's old lighting with new, highly efficient LED, or light-emitting diode, fixtures.
Lighting in an art gallery is a lot like the orchestral score in a movie: If it's executed correctly, nobody should pay much attention.
But just as a really good soundtrack can elevate the action on-screen, Khan said he hopes the new lights will improve the public's experience with the art.
"I think it will be surprising to people," he said. "It does make the art look better."
Subtle shading is often lost under traditional lighting, particularly when artists use different shades of black.
Denise Deegan, assistant curator at the Clay Center, said LEDs allow visitors to see artworks in their true colors, with all the depth and dimension the artist intended.
"You really get the full effect of all the pigment," she said. "The color pops out."
The new fixtures also can be equipped with special attachments to spread or focus the light beams and, if needed, add colors to create a "warmer" or "cooler" light. Similar systems are used in large museums, high-end car dealerships and jewelry stores.
Khan figures the lights will cut the Clay Center's energy bills enough that they will pay for themselves in eight to 10 years and will last much longer than that.
LEDs use less electricity than traditional incandescent and even compact fluorescent bulbs while also producing more light. Two LED fixtures can easily do the job of four of the Clay Center's old fixtures.
The LEDs also put off less heat, reducing the load on the Clay Center's heating and cooling system. Khan said the halogen bulbs previously used in the gallery got so hot, workers had to wear heavy gloves just to change them.
The new lighting also will help preserve the artwork displayed in the center's galleries.
Khan said it's best to keep works of art at a standard temperature and humidity level. The light waves from LED bulbs also are gentler on paint pigments than the light from other types of bulbs.