The best museum you never heard of


Sitting very quietly on the San Francisco Bay, a warehouse that had been vacant for 28 years has been transformed into the greatest site for the exhibition of photography in the world.

A mere seven years ago, Andy Pilara, a Silicon Valley gazillionaire, saw a Diane Arbus photo that captivated him.  He bought it.  Then another, then another.  His collection, based on the principle of collecting a relatively few great artists in great depth, now numbers over 2500 pieces.  He needed a place to hold/show them.

Searching the Bay Area, Andy found the disused Pier 24.  There were 10 foot holes in the floor through which the bay could be seen, but the location, just under the Bridge, was fantastic.  Three years of hard work, a great architect, vision, will and money have transformed Pier 24 into 28,000 square feet of the best exhibition space possible.

When Pier 24 first opened, they showed their own collection, and it was spectacular.  More photography than I had ever before been able to enjoy in one place, perfectly displayed.  They have a policy of not placing any tags or labels on the walls–you are supposed to simply enjoy the art without stopping to study the name, date, artist and materials of each.  While this is against the trend of other museums, it clearly works for a site which will draw a dedicated and knowledgeable audience.

Innovative ways of hanging and displaying the art increase the delight

A museum can’t exist forever on just one show, though, so other work has been brought in.

Currently, Pier 24 is showing the collection of Randi and Bob Fisher.  Bob is the son of the founder of the Gap, who has an extensive collection which was shown at SFMOMA last year.

This collection is in the same vein as the museum founder’s–a narrow selection of great photographers in great depth.  In particular, their collection of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher is simply astonishing.  An enormous room is filled floor to ceiling with their structuralist documentary work.


Shots of women's faces as they walked in New York, by Harry Callahan.


Admission to Pier 24 is free, but limited.  You have to make a reservation before, on their website.  They permit 20 people every 2 hours, so the space is quiet and contemplative.  You are encouraged to take your time, to think and look and absorb.



I can’t say enough about Pier 24–it’s simply the finest photography display space in the world.  Not many people seem to know about it, and you owe it to yourself to get there before the rest of them find out.

Pier 24 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105

Open By Appointment
Monday – Thursday
9am to 5pm

Phone: 415.512.7424


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