Pier 24 Photography’s $13 Million Pilara Foundation Auction

In a momentous continuation of their photography auction series, Sotheby’s recently made headlines with their sale of works from Pier 24 Photography, part of the esteemed Pilara Family Foundation collection.

This auction series has been a monumental event, gathering an extraordinary array of 20th-century and post-war photographic treasures. The result? A staggering achievement of nearly $13 million in proceeds, leaving art enthusiasts and collectors across the globe in awe. In this article, we delve into the captivating details of this event, exploring its historical significance and the remarkable individuals behind this philanthropic endeavour.

Pier 24 Photography's $13 Million Pilara Foundation Auction

The Legacy of Pier 24 Photography

The story of Pier 24 Photography and its connection to the Pilara Family Foundation is one that began in 2003 when the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) hosted a groundbreaking retrospective of the iconic artist and photographer Diane Arbus.

This exhibition profoundly moved Andy Pilara, instilling in him a deep appreciation for the emotive power of photography and image-making. This transformative experience ignited the Pilaras’ passion for collecting photographs, ultimately leading them on a journey spanning nearly two decades.

In 2010, the Pilaras made an indelible mark on the world of photography by opening Pier 24 Photography, an extraordinary exhibition space nestled along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. This remarkable venue was not only a testament to their dedication as collectors but also a manifestation of their philanthropic spirit.

Pier 24 Photography was unique in that it was open to the public, granting free access to a rotating program of curated exhibitions that showcased their expansive collection.

A Hub for Education and Art

Beyond its role as a space for fine art enthusiasts, Pier 24 Photography opened its doors to students and school children, fostering a deeper connection between art and the community. The venue also provided vital support to emerging photographers through initiatives like the visiting artist program, commissioned projects, and various awards.

In recent years, the Pilara Family Foundation has transitioned from an operating foundation to a granting foundation. As part of this shift, all proceeds generated from the auctions of their photography collection are now directed towards charitable initiatives, particularly in the domains of healthcare research, education, and the arts. Furthermore, the foundation intends to make significant contributions to various institutions, ensuring the continued legacy of these photographic treasures.

Pier 24 Photography's $13 Million Pilara Foundation Auction

Spring 2023 Auction Results

The Spring 2023 auction of Pier 24 Photography from the Pilara Family Foundation was a resounding success. The evening sale achieved a total of $7.1 million, exceeding its estimated value of $4-6 million. Impressively, 96.4% of the lots were sold, with nearly two-thirds of them surpassing their presale high estimates. This triumph was not limited to local enthusiasts; the auction saw strong participation from bidders across 16 countries, demonstrating the global allure of this collection.

The daytime sales during the same event garnered $3.5 million, again surpassing its estimated range of $1.9-2.9 million. An impressive 96.9% of the lots found buyers, with 45.2% of them exceeding their presale high estimates. The international community of collectors continued to show fervent interest, with bidders hailing from 22 countries.

Fall 2023 Auction Highlights

The Fall 2023 auctions continued to build on this momentum. The Photographer Unknown online auction, featuring photographs taken by individuals whose names have been lost to time, achieved a total of $86,678 million, well above its estimated range of $186-296,000.

Remarkably, every lot was sold, reflecting the strong international appeal of these anonymous yet captivating images. Bidders from seven countries enthusiastically participated in this unique sale.

The live auction component of the Fall 2023 event was equally noteworthy, achieving a total of $2.1 million, although it fell slightly below the estimated range of $2.2-3.4 million. Nevertheless, the sale featured works that resonated deeply with collectors from 20 different countries.

Pier 24 Photography's $13 Million Pilara Foundation Auction

These outstanding results underscore the unparalleled quality of the Pier 24 Photography Collection of the Pilara Family Foundation. Beyond the financial success, this collection is a historical testament to the intersection of modern art and photography. It also reflects the enduring impact of visual imagery in contemporary culture, reminding us of the power that photographs hold in conveying human experiences and emotions.


The auctions of works from Pier 24 Photography from the Pilara Family Foundation have left an indelible mark on the world of photography and art. The Pilaras’ dedication to collecting, coupled with their commitment to philanthropy, has not only created a significant cultural legacy but has also contributed significantly to healthcare, education, and the arts. This remarkable journey continues to inspire and captivate art enthusiasts and collectors alike, ensuring that the power of the image endures for generations to come.

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