Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pier 24

Berkeley photographer Joe Reifer wrote a nice blurb recently about Pier 24 in San Francisco, complete with snapshots from the gallery.

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 biggest baddest nondescript photo warehouse around

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.

9 comments: said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

Read about this in the SFChronicle a bit ago. Perilously situating this incredible collection under a bridge and over the bay = increase in Awesome!!!

Anonymous said...

This looks very cool. I always try to look at images before reading info, but sometimes that text just sucks me in. Being forced to do without sounds like a great idea.

J. Wesley Brown said...

Thanks - definitely going to check this out when I'm up next month.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Yeh Blake, but it's not the same as seeing it all in one place, in the flesh so to speak.

I think I could kill a few hours there...

Another reason I need to get to the States.

Thanks for posting.

Michael Riserhouse said...

This place scares the shit out of me. I went a few weeks ago. I got through the Arbus room and was heading over to the Friedlander room when that stupid robot pinned me in the corner for about 30 minutes. I was able to disable it with a computational paradox and slipped between it's legs to the bathroom. I sat huddled in a stall for a few minutes to regain my composure and then stealthily made my out of the bathroom and down the hall to the Winogrand room.
I was obviously still distressed though because I found myself staring at a picture on the wall for about 10 minutes until I realized it was a damn window.
I will not be returning anytime soon.

Anonymous said...


I know what you're talking about. I saw the battery charging station for the robot when I was there. I asked about it but was told "mind your own business. The robot is out for repairs."
Overall, the gallery is pretty decent but when you have to watch over your shoulder constantly it gets tiresome quickly.
I hope you change your mind and give the gallery a second chance though!

Blake Andrews said...

I guess when you write about something under a bridge, trolls can be expected.

Anonymous said...

Says the head troll.