Pier 24 is the personal holding space for gazzilionaire Andy Pilara's photo collection, with rotating exhibits by him and other wealthy collectors. More details on how it came together can be found here.
I'd been itching to visit this place ever since reading this description back in June. Finally, during a Bay Area trip last month with the family, I managed to sneak away for a few hours to see it for myself. Yes indeed, the rumors are true. It's the biggest, baddest permanent photo space on the planet. I'm talking to you, New York and London and Paris.
The gallery is unusual for a few reasons. First of all, unlike most exhibition spaces, it calls no attention to itself. The building is a blank warehouse under a bridge with no signage or advertising. If you're just passing by you'll never find it. The only way to discover it is through word-of-mouth beforehand. You ring a buzzer to be let in, and if you don't have an appointment (booked ahead online) you're out of luck. Admission is free. Once inside, the warehouse is divided into roughly 20 large rooms, each one housing about a book's worth of vintage framed prints.
The second reason Pier 24 is unusual is that photographs are shown with no supporting information. No captions, no prices, no labels, not even the photographer's names. There was a catalog with background information which could be carried along, but that was discouraged. When I asked for it, it was suggested that I first experience the photographs by themselves.
With no supporting information the only basis for judgment was the material itself. Many of the photographs were familiar and I'd already made some decisions about them. But many were new. And even for the ones I'd seen before it was a pleasure to take them in as prints, raw and relatively unmediated.
I don't know of other galleries or museums which typically display art like this. The closest I can think of was one case in January at Froelick Gallery, but that was just a one-month show. This is ongoing. Maybe it will start a trend.
If I have any criticism, it's that the particular show I saw wasn't very edgy. It was from the Fisher collection, heavy on Szarkowski darlings of the 1970s. There was a Friedlander room, an Arbus room, a Winogrand room, etc. Most photo geeks will have seen this stuff before, even if just in books. But the shows rotate, and I expect Pilara has some surprises in stock for the future. Pier 24 is just getting started, and off to a promising beginning. If you visit SF, this should be at the top of your list.