Maryland’s Glenstone Museum has announced they will acquire more than 100 photographs from the collection of Andrew and Mary Pilara and the Pilara Foundation in San Francisco. The Pilara collection is among the greatest in North America, and will bolster the museum’s already significant collection of conceptual photographs with luminaries of documentary photography like Walker Evans and Diane Arbus.
The acquisition, which was made in part with guidance from Gagosian Art Advisory and Jeffrey Fraenkel of Fraenkel Gallery, comes just over a month after the Pilara’s announced that Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco, where the collection was kept, will shut its doors in 2025 after over a decade.
The decision to shutter Pier 24 was not an easy one. However, San Francisco Port Commission’s decision to triple the rent for Pier 24’s home under the San Francisco Bay Bridge led the Pilara Foundation to rethink how best to serve both their local community and the global photographic community and change its mission from an “operating foundation to a granting foundation.”
Apart from sharing philosophical values with Pier 24, free admission, education, and community engagement, for example, the Glenstone similarly views photography as a driving force in contemporary art. “The advent of photography is arguably the single most important technological innovation to have an impact on art since the late 19th century, so it’s impossible to tell the full story of modern art without it,” Glenstone director and co-founder Emily Rales told ARTnews.
Rales added that separating collections by medium is an archaic way of thinking about how to organize art. “Painting, sculpture, photography, drawings, videos – they are all important and thinking about them in a cross-disciplinary way yields a deeper and more nuanced appreciation of artmaking,” she said.
The Pilara’s passion for photography was sparked by a 2003 retrospective of the brilliant and provocative Diane Arbus at SFMoMA. That exhibition sparked the family’s passion for photography and led to almost 20 years of compiling one of the most sweeping and inspired collections of 20th century and post-war photographs.
A standout among the 112 works in the acquisition is an edition of Arbus’s A box of ten photographs (1970). This portfolio is among one of the rarest and most important in documentary photography. Arbus began working on A box of ten in 1969 with the intention of completing 50 editions. When she passed away in 1971, only eight had been completed.
The edition acquired by Glenstone is marked “1/50” and is signed by Arbus with a dedication to Richard Avedon. It and stands out among the eight existing editions by have one extra photograph.
In addition to the museum’s acquisition, there will be a dedicated series of sales at Sotheby’s with evening and day sales at the house’s New York location on the first and second of May, with additional works to be auctioned off throughout the year.
The collection to be auctioned is made up of many of the 20th Century masters of the medium: Richard Avedon, Robert Adams, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand, among others, and Sotheby’s describes many of the works as “unobtainable” today. Sotheby’s estimates the collection will fetch around $15 million.