One of the most significant collections of 20th century photography could sell for more than $15m at auction in May at Sotheby’s New York after the private museum that has displayed the works for more than a decade announced it would close due in part to rising rents in San Francisco.
Over two auctions on 1 May and 2 May, and subsequent sales throughout the year, Sotheby’s will sell off works from the Pilara Family Foundation, which was displayed for more than a decade at Pier 24 Photography, a private museum in San Francisco. The collection includes works by most of the major photographers of the last century, including Richard Avedon, Dorothea Lange, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Robert Frank.
The collection dates back to 2003, when San Francisco portfolio manager Andy Pilara and his wife, Mary, purchased their first photograph after becoming fascinated by the medium during a Diane Arbus retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA).
Over the next 20 years, the Pilaras built a collection that now includes more than 4,000 works, according to Pier 24’s website. In 2010, they opened the museum on a renovated pier under the Bay Bridge. The museum announced in January that it would close in 2025 after its current lease ends, following a years-long legal battle with its landlord, the San Francisco Port Commission.
“After struggling for five years to secure a new lease with the San Francisco Port Commission and its ultimate decision to triple our rent definitely informed our decision to close,” Andy Pilara said in a statement. “Rather than operating with a significantly higher annual budget, we believe that money could be better utilised by local organisations.”
The Pilaras’ focus will shift to providing grants in healthcare research, arts and education. Proceeds from the May sales will go toward charitable initiatives in those areas, a Sotheby’s spokesperson said.
In addition to the works headed to auction, a selection of 112 photographs by ten photographers from the Pilara Foundation Collection was acquired by the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, the museum announced Friday. The museum snapped up works by Arbus, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Peter Hujar, Zanele Muholi, Paul Strand, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Francesca Woodman. Glenstone, a private museum situated on the outskirts of Washington, DC, recently received a donation of $1.9bn from its co-founder Mitchell Rales.