On my recent visit to San Francisco, I visited the gorgeous new contemporary photography museum at Pier 24. Described on its website as “a place to view and think about photography,” the museum is contemplative and quiet by design, allowing 20 visitors in at a time by appointment only. This, coupled with the fact that there are no placards on the walls to inform you about the artists, allows you to escape into the works and feel as though you’re wandering through a private gallery or someone’s home. Which is true in part: The museum houses the collection of banker Andy Pilara of the Pilara Foundation, and also will show other private photography collections, like the exhibit currently on display From the Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher (you can take a virtual tour of the current exhibition here).
It was stunning to walk through rooms filled with iconic images by Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and William Eggleston (whose retrospectives have recently passed through Washington D.C.), and to realize the beauty in seemingly mundane architectural works like water towers, grain elevators, and gas tanks in Bernd and Hilla Becher’s typologies (pictured above). I loved the overwhelming, large-scale photos of Andreas Gursky, whose prints took up entire walls, transforming supermarket staples and Wall Street traders into pixels in a high-definition color cacophony.
The pier, which is situated just under the Bay Bridge (you can here the faint sound of foghorns as you wander the gallery) was left unoccupied for three decades and had holes in the floor when it was purchased by the Pilara Foundation. It’s now been renovated into a 28,000-square-foot space that opened last March. But despite being somewhat exclusive, one of the most brilliant aspects of this museum is that’s is absolutely free. Situated along the Embarcadero just a bit south of the Ferry Market Building, it’s easily accessible from downtown. Consider it a must-do on your next visit, just be sure to get a spot well in advance.
Photo: Janelle Nanos