Art Finds a New Audience When the Exhibition Space is a Model Apartment

West Coast branding agency frenchCALIFORNIA turns a San Francisco penthouse by Marmol Radziner and SOM into an art gallery.

marmol radziner
With views of downtown San Francisco, this penthouse designed by Marmol Radziner serves as a temporary gallery for original artworks and a mix of mid-20th century modern Italian and Brazilian furnishings, including a pair of Shell Armchairs by Hauner & Eisler. Courtesy Douglas Friedman

Galleries no longer need permanent brick and mortar spaces to be successful. With an ever-expanding calendar of physical and virtual fairs, new platforms can be more transient and flexible. By investing in these events, some say that they’re able to reach a wider audience, give more attention to the talents they represent, and better promote the artwork. But a new type of exhibition staged in high-end residences blurs the boundaries between public and private space and offers truly surprising possibilities.

San Francisco- and New York-based frenchCALIFORNIA , for example, works closely with real estate developers to find innovative ways to promote their properties. The latest venture on that front is to bring a rotating list of galleries to signature residences and mount temporary installations. Such endeavors kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, by marketing the art and the space. While developers are able to showcase their properties’ features in a new and exciting way, a gallery can present its works in striking contextualized environments designed by big-name architects.

In frenchCALIFORNIA’s latest outfit for developer Related California, a range of collectible period originals and contemporary furnishings has been installed in a 3-bedroom, 3-bath, San Francisco penthouse designed by Marmol Radziner. ​​It’s located in Fifteen Fifty, a 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use development by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

More from Metropolis

Marmol Radziner
Anchored by Sergio Rodrigues’s 1950 jacaranda wood Burton table and Martin Szekely’s 1988 lacquered wood Betty chairs, the dining room and kitchen also play host to rare Ettore Sottsass vases. Courtesy Douglas Friedman

“For this project, we chose to work with the Paris and Beirut-based gallery Gabriel & Guillaume and Jessica Silverman Gallery, pulling from their inventories,” says frenchCALIFORNIA’s Paris-born founder Guillaume Coutheillas. In addition to brokering the arrangement between the various parties, his company also spearheaded the installation’s design. “Of course, our goal is to always advocate for the developer and make sure they are happy with the design story. But it’s also to respect the galleries’ visions. We make sure to place their pieces as intended. We also try to champion local and burgeoning artists, by placing them in these incredible spaces where we know their work will be seen by many.”

Original mid-20th century modern furnishings, luminaires, and accessories by Sergio Rodrigues, Joaquim Teneriro, Angelo Lelli among others juxtapose postmodern and contemporary works by Martin Szekely, Ettore Sottsass, Namika Atelier, and Portego. This carefully curated collection of Brazilian, Italian, French, and Lebanese design plays well with artworks by Julian Hoeber Amikam Toren, Ian Wallace, Davina Semo, and Claudia Wieser; a selection made by the gallery principal Jessica Silverman. Coutheillas and his team anchored this entire mise-en-scene with bold colors and patterned wallpapers from BackDrop that help distinguish different rooms. The multifaceted project is a bold statement piece in and of itself that reflects shifting trends in both collectible and interior design.

Marmol Radziner
Green walls in one of two suites help to contain an eclectic array that includes a hand-knotted Gilda rug by contemporary French designer Marguerite Le Maire, a red powder-coated steel chain tableau by Davina Semo, and 1950s style luminaires. Courtesy Douglas Friedman

“Eclecticism is a great word to describe the way people are thinking about interiors and design today,” Coutheillas reflects. “Rather than choosing a particular period or style, people are gravitating towards individual pieces that have a story. People want storied pieces anchoring their spaces, and that reflects their individual tastes which typically pulls from a mix of sources.”

frenchCALIFORNIA first collaborated with Gabriel & Guillaume on a similar endeavor hosted at New York’s iconic, recently restored Steinway Tower last January. Though the historic nature of the space posed different challenges, the gallery’s dynamic offering worked as well as it does in the Fifteen Fifty tower to emphasize the agency’s goals. A virtual walkthrough of the penthouse exhibition is available through Gabriel & Guillaume.


You may also enjoy “A New Exhibition at Friedman Benda Explores the Split Personalities of Design Objects

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: [email protected]

Register here for Metropolis’s Think Tank Thursdays and hear what leading firms across North America are thinking and working on today.

Recent Projects