Hot or cold? Finding the perfect color temperature for art

Why do museum visitors spend more time admiring some paintings than others? The answermay lie not just with the artist, but with the lighting, too, including the location and number of light sources, their color temperature, and color rendering index, as well as many other factors. All of them affect a painting’s color and composition, which in turn influence the way it is perceived visually and emotionally. In an experiment conducted at the State Russian Museum for her thesis, Valentina Aun, a graduate of ITMO’s Lighting Design Master’s program and an interior designer, discovered that even two abstract pieces created by the same artists require two different approaches to lighting. White Circle, one of the paintings she analyzed, benefited more from a neutral color temperature (4000K), which highlighted the contrast between the blue and the white circles and enhanced all of the painting’s colors while adding brightness to the white. The second piece, Red and Yellow, looked more appealing in a warmer color temperature (3000K), which sharpened the red, yellow, and orange colors while adding a yellow undertone to the white and depth to the blue. 

Valentina Aun. Photo by Dmitry Grigoryev, ITMO.NEWS

Valentina Aun. Photo by Dmitry Grigoryev, ITMO.NEWS

Lighting in museums

Not only specific exhibits, but wider museum spaces, too, require correctly engineered lighting conditions, which would depend on each museum’s collection. According to Alexander Isaev, the chief power engineer at the Hermitage, in order to convey the full significance of each piece and help visitors establish a bond with it, the museum’s specialists have to first study its history and place it within a broader context. After that, they purchase or assemble the lighting equipment that will be safe for the exhibits. Such equipment is typically useful for illuminating entire exhibition halls and accentuating specific exhibits.

Contemporary art museums exhibiting multimedia objects, on the other hand, would require a different approach to lighting. There, the brightness of AR and VR objects, projections, and screens will have to complement the general lighting of the exhibition hall, which is why one of the most common solutions for such spaces is accent or decorative lighting. Ksenia Lanikina, a lighting designer and the founder of Yarko-Yarko lighting design studio, talked about the way her company implemented these techniques at the Museum of Cryptography (Moscow), where they served to visualize information noise. There, the lighting experts highlighted each stand with accent lighting and added neon signs for decor. Another project developed by the studio was the lighting design at Moscow’s Museum of City Services, where the specialists have created a caustic lighting effect, making a neon-green tree canopy cast flecks of light on the floor beneath.

Read also:

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ITMO Students Present Their Projects at International Light Nights Festival 

Digital Art and Opera: Winners of Digital OPERA Performance on Contests’ Benefits and Media Content Trends 

Follow the light: how light show attract the public

However, lighting can not only accentuate specific exhibits, but also attract new visitors to museums. According to Boris Kislitsin, the founder and creative director of the design studio Pitch, lighting can even be used to create a community. For instance, in 2019 over 1.8 million people came together for the Festival of Light, Europe’s biggest light show, in the French city of Lyon. Lighting can also help bring a new life to a public space or even completely reimagine it, like it happened to the LightRails rainbow-colored tunnel in the state of Alabama, US. The new colorful detail attracted more tourists to this location. Lighting can even tell a story or convey an important message to the public. For example, before the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the city’s monuments were lit up with 3D projections of trees in an attempt to draw attention to the issue of deforestation.

Moreover, light shows can be an exciting alternative for those bored with traditional tours and concerts. For instance, the St. Petersburg Philharmonia held a live show where the music was accompanied by projections of paintings by Armenian artists floating all around the venue. Svetlana Biryukova, head of the Multimedia Center at the State Russian Museum, explains that to achieve this effect, the museum’s experts used lighting equipment to turn classical paintings into their digital versions. During the performance, the color temperature in the hall was also regulated to match the projections on canvases. 

Svetlana Biryukova. Photo by Dmitry Grigoryev, ITMO.NEWS

Svetlana Biryukova. Photo by Dmitry Grigoryev, ITMO.NEWS

A similar approach is used by Nadezhda Abramova, the director and producer of Digital Opera 2022, an annual festival bringing together opera and digital art. There, each classical opera performance is accompanied by colorful projections on the stage and walls of the theater that add new details to the story. 

Nadezhda Abramova with Igor Efimov, the creative producer of Digital Opera 2022, and director Pavel Sorokin. Photo by Dmitry Grigoryev, ITMO.NEWS

Nadezhda Abramova with Igor Efimov, the creative producer of Digital Opera 2022, and director Pavel Sorokin. Photo by Dmitry Grigoryev, ITMO.NEWS

The international conference Lighting Design has been held annually since 2014. This year, the event was organized by ITMO University, its Creative Lighting Department (CLD), the creative community of lighting designers RULD, the Hermitage Museum, the St. Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, and Zifergauz gallery with support from the Federation Council and the Government of St. Petersburg. Among the conference’s partners are the companies INTILED, ZERS, ALEDO, Lighting Technologies, VITRULUX, Saros, and IPRO. This year’s event brought together around 1,500 Russian and international participants, from business and government representatives to lighting designers, engineers, architects, and artists.