Home & Design September 1, 2015

Seeing What Isn’t There

How Virtual Installation Is Transforming the Industry of Art

A year ago, Andria Friesen, owner of Friesen Gallery in Ketchum, received a phone call from a potential client in Southern California who was looking for a piece of art to place in her new home. The client was not sure what she was looking for, but she had a spectacular home with a living room that she was convinced would benefit from a work of art.

The client emailed Friesen a photograph of her furnished living room with one empty wall. Seeing the décor of the room, Friesen said in a recent interview, “One particular artist in Santa Fe immediately spoke to me.” Friesen called up artist Lawrence Fodor and described, in general terms, what she had in mind. Fodor had a piece he thought might work, photographed it and emailed it back to Friesen. With the help of Photoshop, a photo-editing software program, Friesen inserted the image of the artwork into the photo of her client’s living room. With just a single dimensional frame of reference—say a power socket (2 ¾ by 4 ¼ inches) in the living room photo—Friesen was able to size the artwork photo precisely so that the scale of it matched the scale of the living room wall. She then emailed the virtual installation image to her client who, now able to visualize the artwork in her living room, ordered the piece. Fodor shipped the piece directly from Santa Fe to Southern California. The entire three-way transaction took place despite the fact that the client had never been to Idaho, Friesen had never been to her client’s home nor had seen the piece of art in person, and the artist had never previously met or interacted with the client.

This is not the way the art world has traditionally operated.

Two years ago, a typical scenario might have unfolded as follows. An art collector from Pittsburgh, while vacationing in Sun Valley, might have happened upon a piece of art he loved but one he was not quite sure would work in his house 2100 miles away. At that point, Friesen would likely offer to have a crate built for the art (at a cost of approximately $450) and ship it on trial to Pittsburgh ($400 one way). The client would then arrange to have the art physically installed to see if it looked as good in his home as it did in the gallery. If not, the whole process would have to be reversed. 

Despite the fact that she was willing to bear all of the costs, Friesen said, “Clients just didn’t want to deal with all of that—the crating and shipping.” Instead, she can virtually install a work of art in the client’s “home” and provide a way for the buyer to visualize the art in context. 

Adam Elias of Elias Construction in Ketchum has experienced the power of virtual installations in the building industry. On more than one occasion, the art has come before the building. As he pulled up a computer image of a piece of art, Elias explained: “A client will say, ‘We have this piece; this is going in the master bedroom.’ So, then we will build the wall or build the lighting or the ceiling system—with everything balanced—to carry the piece of art.”

By dropping in a scaled image of the artwork into an architectural program like Revit, the architect, along with Elias, and perhaps an interior designer, can make numerous iterations of the room dimensions and design, with the end goal of finding the design that best highlights the art. They can even simulate different lighting scenarios—morning, evening, bright day—and see how it affects the way the art looks.

Without a tool like virtual installation, even Elias’s savviest building clients struggle to visualize an artwork in a yet-to-be-built home, he said. “This enables clients to make educated decisions up front, which leads to less change. It’s a big cost saving. If you want to save money in construction, spend the money in design…the walls and rooms get built more specifically to accommodate gallery pieces, or to create the room and atmosphere appropriately with a whole lot less misdirection.”

According to Friesen, the virtual installation process also facilitates the commissioning of custom works. A client might love a given work, but it might be altogether the wrong scale—too small, for example—for a particular wall. So, working with photographed sketches and conceptual drawings from an artist, Friesen can place (virtually) a larger piece on the client’s wall. Working back and forth this way, the client, artist and Friesen can envision what a custom artwork—yet to be created—will look like in the home.

Virtual installation is an unexpected, though not isolated, example of art merging with technology for positive effect. And the marriage brings new avenues for art industry and appreciation. Two disciplines once thought to be all but mutually exclusive, it turns out, might actually inform one another.

Friesen, for one, is a believer. “I’m telling you, this is a game-changer.”

This article appears in the Fall 2015 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.