Vertical Gallery's Digital Embrace: How Patrick Hull Sees Art Online Long Term
By GINNY VAN ALYEA
Dealer Patrick Hull, like so many of his colleagues, had been preparing for an upcoming exhibition for months. Vertical Gallery’s 7th anniversary exhibition was set to open Saturday, April 4. By mid-March it was becoming very clear that plans would have to be suspended or changed significantly.
The gallery’s Saturday night openings on Western Ave. are consistently popular – in COVID-19 terms, they’re crowded. So Hull made a decision to come up with a 3D virtual exhibition in 48 hours and launch a digital preview for his collectors. He told me, “I feel like I missed two days of my life, but during these difficult times I’m trying to find new ways for collectors to experience our gallery, especially for our anniversary!” Hull got it done. He sent the collector preview on April 1 and within two days, he says, he had sold over half the show before releasing it on the gallery’s website for the April 4 “opening” as planned. I asked Hull to share insights on how he put together his digital plan and how he thinks it will continue to be useful to the gallery and its artists long term.
Please share some background on what prompted you to dive into launching a digital preview and virtual opening for your latest anniversary show?
We’ve published work for sale on our website since we opened seven years ago, so launching digital previews with the ability to purchase artwork online was not new for us. We tried virtual walkthroughs twice before, in 2016, but it did not work out quite the way I wanted. I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind to try again: we have collectors around the world, and I wanted to give them another way to view work. But there were issues with the overall 3D quality, and it takes a lot of extra planning to get it done in time for an opening.
When the quarantine went into effect in Chicago [in March], I knew people would not be able to visit the gallery for a while, but I still wanted them to see our 7-Year Anniversary Show, so I called my friend with the 3D camera and asked him to come over and try what we did years before again. We’d learned quite a bit about the best way to use the 3D technology the first time around — such as spacing of the camera photos; gallery lighting — so we had a great starting point. I am really pleased by how this new walkthrough turned out. You can see it on verticalgallery.com
What were your primary goals for approaching this new frontier?
Purchasing artwork online can be a difficult decision. Our primary goal was to give collectors the closest experience to seeing a show in person — i.e., the ability to walk around and look at artwork from various angles, just as you would in the gallery. We still have conventional static images on our website, but the 3D walkthrough offers a more interactive viewing experience and a more accurate feel of what a piece looks like in person. It really helps to understand the scale of the work.
We also wanted to show our artists that we are still working hard on their behalf. Many of them have seen projects and commissions postponed or cancelled, and we wanted to maximize this exhibit’s potential to help them sell their work.
Do you think you’ll use this approach even after the public can return to the gallery some day?
Yes! The response has been great. We’re already planning a walkthrough for our next show in June, featuring Chicago artist Joseph Renda Jr. We will evaluate it on a show-by-show basis moving forward.
What has surprised you the most?
Maintaining both the physical space and the virtual space is definitely keeping me busier than expected! In the days since the physical space closed, phone and email inquiries have doubled. We also have had many more inquiries from outside the Chicago area, and we’ve been asked for more detailed images on specific works as a result of the 3D view. We’re learning about other new technologies as well, and will be trying some new video projects in the future.
I think you’ve set a standard for how local galleries can approach this time and maintain a global reach, but I also think you’re giving the public as well as artists dynamic new means of engaging with art. Can you share some collector as well as artist responses to what you’ve done?
Thank you! I appreciate that. It’s a challenging time for everyone.
Our artists have been very supportive and pleased with our approach. Many of our artists are showing in Chicago — and some in the USA — for the first time. In fact, when we planned this exhibit, many agreed to show with us because we could introduce their work to a new market. It’s unfortunate that people cannot experience the show in person, but I feel that we’ve given artists and collectors the next best option. We are very excited to re-open and have people back in again, and we sincerely appreciate everyone’s support during this time.