Imagine this. You wander into a group show of work by the most important photographers of the last 160 years. There are so few people there you have a hunter's sense of discovery. Attractive, young studio assistants who donate their time are there to answer questions or give impromptu tours. They are highly skilled answering questions at every level of knowledge. Admission is free and you have the place mostly to yourself. Would you go?
Heck, yes! The Pilara Foundation Photography Collection at Pier 24 in San Francisco is like that (except for the wander-in part…. you have to plan far ahead). The venue is still new enough that it feels very "insider". In SF Gate, SFMOMA Curator of Photography Sandra Phillips says this about Pier 24: "There are photography museums, but nothing so spectacular and so personal and so giving to the experience of looking at a photograph. The whole thing is truly unique.".
Pier 24 is the best place imaginable to see photography, especially contemporary photography. Notably, the foundation embraces artists’ preferences for zero wall text. This simple change compels visitors toward contemplative, direct experience with the image for a completely different experience of looking at art—fantastic.
“A Sense of Place” was on view when I visited. The show tracks photography’s recent history of engagement in the same contemporary art making themes as painting does. Thomas Demand’s awesome “Grotto” is perfect example, (source: Pier24.org).
Richard Dorment’s UK Telegraph review in 2006 explains "Grotto" this way: “The first thing we see at the entrance to the Serpentine Gallery's exhibition of the work of Thomas Demand is Grotto, a wall-sized photograph that appears to show an underground cavern bristling with 130 or so stalactites and stalagmites. In fact, it shows nothing of the sort. To make it, the German artist used 900,000 pieces of cut cardboard weighing 52 tonnes to construct a life-size model of some godforsaken cave in Majorca. Demand's working method is to make such elaborate models in paper and cardboard, and then to photograph them.”
Visitors get a unique, intimate experience with important, beautiful, underexposed objects. Pier 24 should be on every art-lovers list.
Pier 24 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
Plan very far ahead. Pier 24 only admits 80 or so people a day. You may have to book as far as 2 months in advance to find an open time slot.
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