Sunday, April 26, 2015
Secondhand Pier 24 Photography
Photography was long a wealthy person's art simply because camera equipment costs so much, not to mention the expenses of photo paper, darkrooms, and all the associated paraphernalia of the trade. Digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop have changed the equation somewhat, but it is still expensive and tricky making your living as a photographer.
One constant over the centuries is wealthy collectors parking their cash and investing in Art. San Francisco, with its newish billionaires from The Gap and investment banking, has three of the top private art photography collections in the world according to ARTnews, including that of RS Investments guru Andrew Pilara.
In 2010, Pilara opened a private museum to house his photography collection at Pier 24, which the public can visit by appointment, Monday through Friday, three separate viewings per day, with a maximum of 20 people allowed at a time.
The museum is in an old, rehabilitated warehouse under the Bay Bridge that juts into the bay, with 20 galleries spanning 28,000 square feet, with no windows featuring beautiful waterfront vistas to steal your eye away from the Art Photography. This place is serious.
Each exhibit is displayed for about a year, and this year's version is called Secondhand, examining repurposed photographs, and a lot of it is very High Concept Art.
In one of the eccentric choices at this institution, there is no wall signage explaining the art for you, which is simultaneously confusing and refreshing. At the front desk, you are offered a free catalogue to take around the galleries which acts as a map and a rudimentary guide of the artists and their work.
Secondhand begins with a quote from John Baldessari about how imagery shouldn't be owned, somewhat ironic in the context of a photo collector's museum.
Each gallery seems to have its own set of photographer(s) and theme, with installation styles ranging from carefully ordered to randomly stacked against the walls.
Aline Smithson described her pleasure at the museum and the exhibition on the lenscratch website: "I wandered the almost twenty-gallery space, each room uniquely envisioned and curated, bringing remarkable levels of creativity, intelligence, and seeing, where works are not only exhibited in the most inventive way, but the considerations of pairings, framing, and simply the scope of the vision is unsurpassed. I felt completely energized by the experience and have thought about it at least once a day since walking in the front door."
Jörg M. Colberg, on his interesting Conscientious Photography Magazine website, begs to differ about the museum. "Even though the Rothko Chapel has been mentioned as an inspiration for Pier 24, the space reminds me more of a tomb or crypt in which artifacts of the present are to be deciphered by that very small group of adventurers who have gained access. This makes for a somewhat strange experience, given many of the exhibited artists certainly aren’t Rothkos. Make no mistake, if you enjoy looking at photographs on your own in a somewhat dimly lit oppressive-feeling space, this is great. If you are more like me, however, being able to take in work even in the presence of large groups, acknowledging that while being art, photography is a form of art closest to the what is in part represented by those very people around you, then there is no need for this supposedly contemplative environment. Contemplations happens in one’s head, not outside of one’s body."
The experience fell somewhere in between for myself and the two professional photographer buddies I visited with, Donald Kinney and Cassi Switzer. The exhibit can be seen with an online reservation through May 26th (click here). After that date, the museum will be closed for a number of months to get ready for what one of the volunteers at the front desk hinted would be the first show involving a single artist, information she disclosed as if it were an important state secret.