Q: I recently moved into my first apartment, and the bare walls are beginning to be a bit depressing. I have some posters that I'd like to hang, but I don't know what to do about framing them. Can you give me some advice?
A: I can, but first I think it would be helpful to review the reasons why pictures are framed or, less commonly, left unframed.
During the Middle Ages, frames were developed initially as a means of helping to protect works of art. They gradually acquired considerable artistic merit of their own, however, to the point where frames sometimes were more beautifully crafted than the images they contained. A recent show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted exclusively to handcrafted decorative frames made many visitors aware of the skill of artisans who create the frames.
Today, picture frames serve many purposes in a residential setting. They are still useful in protecting whatever image is being displayed, but probably their main function is to make a distinction between the surrounding wall space and the object inside the frame. A simple strip of wood may be all that's needed to create this contrast. In other cases, something more elaborate may be called for, although truly extravagant frames are best reserved for mirrors so they do not compete with the artist's work.
These days, designers are showing increased interest in decorative frames. That represents a definite departure from the style that has dominated modern art for the past few decades. Some non-figurative painters have specified that their canvases be hung without any frames at all.
Because of that long-running trend and the fact that hand-carving is a dying craft, decorative frames are now difficult to find. The law of supply and demand has made them quite expensive as well -- at least for the time being.
One alternative, therefore, is to build your own frame. It isn't that hard to do if you choose the proper components. And with a bit of skill and flair, the result can be quite stylish.
It's safest, however, if a do-it-yourself frame is used with a decorative image, such as a poster, rather than with a high-priced work of art. Take a look at the wide, gilded frame in the photo, which borders a fragment of a painting that was made into a poster.
The original, much larger work was created by Gustav Klimt, an Austrian artist who worked at the turn of the century. This poster was derived from a very colorful painting, which included bits and pieces of gold foil.
Some people may consider it little less than sacrilegious to reduce even a reproduction of a full-scale painting in this way. I don't take that position. To me, the combination of this image and a large-scale decorative frame makes an attractive completion for a wall that would otherwise have remained depressingly blank.