La Jollan helps museum’s art auction move online by creating virtual walk-through

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s fundraising art auction offers a virtual tour featuring the pieces up for auction.
(La Jolla Light)

To bring the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s fundraising art auction into the digital world, La Jollan and virtual tour provider Sam Simmons used a tool typically reserved for real estate or planning and design: a Matterport Pro 2 camera.

The biennial art auction, which normally would be held in person, is online this year as a safety measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Matterport Pro 2 takes a series of photos to create a digital scan of a space, similar to how developers map a building for renderings.

For the MCASD art auction, Simmons created a virtual walk-through by placing the camera in front of each piece of art up for auction and performed high-resolution scans that stitch all the photos together using a method called photogrammetry. He integrated 360 panoramic photos into a 3D environment to create an interactive viewing experience.

The virtual tour takes viewers inside the gallery space, where pieces are staged as they would be if the viewing were in person. From there, the room can be digitally perused to view each piece up close and from different angles. The works up for auction are on view until Thursday, Oct. 15, and bidding for the silent auction is already live at

“You’re going to see each piece of art as it would be in real life, in high definition like you were really there,” Simmons said. “You can view the galleries without being there in person. It’s the next best thing to being there.”

La Jollan Sam Simmons created a virtual walk-through of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s art auction.

In addition to viewing the pieces in a gallery setting from all angles, the photogrammetry provides touchpoints for information, such as the artist of the piece and the suggested value.

Unlike a video tour, the self-guided interactive tour lets viewers “focus on different places or pieces. You might want to pay attention to a certain piece of art or see it from a certain angle, and because it’s a photo, you can stop and pause,” Simmons said. “That’s why this technology goes so well with galleries ... you can look up, look down, immerse yourself and view it at your pace.”

Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley director and chief executive of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, said the auction provides “a snapshot into the art world and who we are interested in as an art institution,” and adapting to provide it is as important as ever.

“The art auction has for decades been our most important fundraiser; we hold it every two years,” she said. “There are 95 works in the auction and about half are regional artists to Southern California. [There is] a range of prices from $500 to $50,000. There are emerging artists, and then there are legendary figures as well.”

The virtual tour provides insight beyond what one would get from a catalog.

“We wanted to contextualize the artwork by scale and from one piece to the other,” Kanjo said. “Take, for example, the piece that is used on the cover of the catalog [Helen Pashgian’s ‘Untitled’ sculpture]. You can see it and you think you know what six inches in diameter looks like, but it is not the same thing as seeing it on a pedestal. It helps to better understand scale. It gave us a conversation between multiple pieces, which is huge for the museum world.”

“We’re always trying to foster a connection between the public and the art object,” she added. “The act of being able to collect work can seem out of reach, but it can be done. Events like our auction can bring art closer to your life. It sets up the possibility for our public to live with artwork; it’s a way to start to collect or dive deeper into your collection.”

Having seen how the virtual technology could be used in an art gallery setting, it could live on past the COVID era, Simmons said.

“You are never going to replace in-person viewing,” he said. “But if there is a gallery that opens in Paris or Dubai or another state, you might not have the resources to go, and it can open up as an art gallery with this technology. It’s all about expanding, and we want as many eyes on the art as possible. This really helps give exposure to artists and helps smaller galleries [reach] a global audience.”

The silent auction is open through Oct. 15. The live auction is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Learn more, take the virtual tour and bid at