• 3D Modeling
  • AR
  • Augmented Reality

Going Virtual: Why Art Gallery Business Needs Online Exhibitions

Vahan Zakaryan
29 Oct 2021
7 min
Going Virtual: Why Art Gallery Business Needs Online Exhibitions

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do many things, including how we view art. With the start of the coronavirus outbreak, museums and art galleries closed their doors to visitors and artists had to come up with new and creative ways to get their artwork noticed. It wasn’t long before world-famous museums started offering free virtual tours of their collections, and soon demand for online art gallery exhibitions ballooned. 

Advances in virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) technology and widespread use of smartphones and tablets make it possible to enjoy and shop for art from anywhere. Marketing masterpieces to art collectors and investors has never been easier, particularly for art galleries ready to embrace the power of VR and AR.

Let’s take a look at some prominent examples of how this technology is used and explore why virtual art space development is a must for art galleries today. 

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    Museums and art galleries go virtual

    The year 2020 was a game changer for the global art scene. “Virtual museum tours” was one of the most searched expressions on Google in the US last year, proving a huge interest in virtual experiences. The British Museum’s online collection page jumped from around 2,000 visits a day to 175,000 in March 2020 alone, and hovered around that figure for a while.

    The Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), J.Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), Natural History Museum (London), Musée d’Orsay (Paris) and National Gallery (London) are just a few of the museums that either launched virtual tours or created interactive online guides for audiences. 

    Going Virtual: Why Art Gallery Business Needs Online Exhibitions - photo 1

    After cancelling its fair in March 2020, Art Basel Hong Kong switched to an online format, presenting over 2,000 works with an estimated value of $270m. on the web through the virtual fair. The international art fair developed the Online Viewing Rooms platform allowing galleries, artists and art enthusiasts all over the world to connect. Eight editions have taken place since then and more will follow. 

    Art galleries in the US followed suit, opting for curated web-based exhibitions. Some had conducted online exhibitions long before the lockdown. For example, the American contemporary art gallery owned by dealer David Zwirner has presented 50 online viewing rooms since 2017, when it first launched an online experience option. He was the first in the art gallery business to offer online viewing rooms to potential buyers. According to Zwirner, in 2019 alone, his art gallery sales increased by 400%.

    Some galleries went further, launching AR exhibitions. Designer Sebastian Errazuriz and artist Zander Eckblad developed an AR-powered platform for artists to self-publish their work, allowing potential buyers to preview the works on their smartphones. Once users find an artwork they’re interested in, the AR tool launches a new page with a phone icon and a moving hand. Users can rotate, zoom in and out, and virtually place the artwork anywhere.

    “With the arrival of 5G, 3D scanning technology, and augmented reality glasses, art as we know it is changing forever. We’re looking at the beginning of a new artworld,” Eckblad believes.

    The concept of virtual art spaces and the development of online 3D galleries is here to stay and here are some reasons why businesses should embrace it.

    Why do you need to create a virtual art gallery?

    Besides the impact of the pandemic and an overall trend toward digitalization, there are other reasons in favor of developing virtual art spaces, either to complement, or even to replace physical ones.

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    Location independence: Although the term was coined by digital nomads to describe a lifestyle that allows them to live and work wherever they want, it perfectly explains a major benefit that art galleries gain from going virtual. A virtual art space doesn’t require a physical location and planning gallery activities in that single location. It allows unlimited flexibility and cuts costs for renting a physical space to store and display art to zero. 

    Better exposure: Once you go virtual, you go global. You’re no longer limited to the needs and consumer behavior of investors living in a particular country. A virtual art space allows you to reach a wider audience and promote art on a global scale, which eventually boosts sales. 

    Easier management process: A virtual art gallery doesn’t require a manager on site. There’s no need to implement security to make sure that the artwork is safe. Changes to virtual galleries are faster and easier than for physical galleries. With virtual art spaces, you can replace artwork with a click. Management can make changes from anywhere, as long as you have a reliable online platform for 3D gallery development and a tech specialist who fixes bugs as needed and keeps the application running properly.

    Better customer engagement: The ways that visitors can interact with artwork in a physical gallery is limited. Basically, they can look at it from various angles and read a short description posted on the wall next to each work. Virtual galleries that use AR technology and visualization of 3D models let visitors interact with each piece of art in a number of ways. They can rotate, zoom in and out on specific parts of the artwork, see animated add-ons with background information and so on. 

    No barriers to entry: Stepping into the world of art galleries or auction houses and checking the prices can feel uncomfortable for those who are new to the business. Virtual art galleries remove the intimidation factor — nobody is physically watching while customers view the artwork.

    Environmental sustainability: Going virtual, whether for an art gallery or any other business, benefits for the environment. Carbon footprint reduction is a valid reason to consider replacing a brick-and-mortar gallery with a virtual art space.

    Steps to launch a virtual art space

    To launch a virtual art space of your own you can go one two ways — either use software and tools that are available online, or opt for a custom solution developed by a group of experienced developers.

    The former is an affordable option that can be a great start to see how the artwork you sell will look online. You can create an online virtual gallery with Google Slides, for example, that serves as a great platform to launch virtual viewing rooms with the help of the Google Street View technology.

    To create a more sophisticated experience, you’ll probably need tech expertise. Some of the steps involved in developing a custom virtual art space are listed below.

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    Set up a database: Take high-resolution pictures of the artwork you want to display in your virtual exhibition and create a database of the images for later 3D modelling.

    Build 3D models: 3D images can be rendered without building explicit geometric models by using apps like, for example, QuickTimeVR. Although this technique allows panoramic viewing, it has limited ability to see objects from various viewpoints as you move through space. It also doesn’t allow you to simulate different lighting scenarios; varying the lighting makes the overall viewing experience more realistic. You’ll need a 3D geometric model of the artwork to provide a truly immersive experience. You can build a model from scratch using 3D modelling tools like CAD or 3DSMax, or you can use 3D scanning systems.

    Work on design: Once you’ve created 3D models of the artwork, you can move on to the design of the virtual space. Think of the color palette, the interface and so on. Your only limits here are your imagination and your budget.

    Launch a website: After all the prep work is done, all that’s left to do is to launch a website that will be the home of your virtual art space.

    Importance of high-quality 3D models

    Digital disruption and advances in AR and VR technologies have opened new opportunities for art galleries. Art dealers and investors can now buy art from the comfort of their homes, thanks to the ubiquity of online exhibitions.

    To display artwork in online galleries, it’s important to build high-quality virtual 3D models that reproduce the art so users can place them in an interactive space. This is difficult to achieve without relevant skills, and thus, will require tech expertise.

    Postindustria offers a full menu of services to build virtual models for 3D catalogs from scratch. Just leave us your contact information and we’ll help you turn your gallery into an outstanding virtual art experience.

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