LED lighting is often advocated as a sustainable alternative to tungsten and halogen lighting, and a form of energy-saving lighting that particularly suits museums. There are a number of reasons for this.
LED lighting is generally about twice as efficient as standard tungsten lighting, and the technology is improving all the time. The bands of light they emit are monochromatic but red, green and blue LEDs can be blended to a white light which can of course be adjusted to different effects. They can also be controlled remotely by automatic or manual systems through the DMX digital control protocol, which means they can be used to create dramatic effects due to their small size. They also give off less heat and ultraviolet radiation than halogen and so do less damage to collections.
Some people believe that LEDs can be harmful to exhibits, as suggested by a popular news story which suggests that the ‘medium yellow’ paint employed by Van Gogh in the National Gallery’s ‘Sunflowers’ (dated 1888) is fading to brown due to LED-induced damage. However, the lights used to test this theory had a higher spectrum of blue light than modern LEDs. The paint also contains sulphates which leaves it vulnerable to degradation under other types of light beside LEDs. Finally, it must be acknowledged that there are as yet no other examples of LEDs causing damage to collections.
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