In an exhilarating display of photographic mastery, Sotheby’s continues its groundbreaking series of auctions, recently presenting one of the most extensive collections of 20th-century and post-war photography ever assembled.
The fall season welcomes back the Pier 24 Photography collection from the Pilara Family Foundation, promising an awe-inspiring array of live and online sales that mirror the rich narratives and dialogues embedded within this remarkable collection.
Spring Success Sets the Stage
The spring sale series sent ripples through the art world, drawing collectors from 23 countries into its fold. This global enthusiasm resulted in a staggering $10.6 million in sales, a remarkable 120% of the combined presale high estimate. These extraordinary results affirm the profound significance of this collection, revealing the intersecting realms of modern art and photography while underlining the enduring influence of visual storytelling in contemporary culture.
Returning to the stage for the fall auctions are some of the most iconic names from the spring series. The offerings include a diverse and unparalleled selection of masterpieces, showcasing the work of influential photographers of the 20th century. Among them, luminaries like Richard Avedon, Dorothea Lange, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand will once again leave their indelible mark.
Foundation Origins: A Tale of Passion and Philanthropy
The Pilara Family Foundation’s journey into photography commenced in 2003, with a pivotal retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) featuring renowned artist and photographer Diane Arbus. It was this momentous exhibition that ignited Andy Pilara’s fascination with the art form, captivated by the emotional intensity embedded within Arbus‘ work and the evocative power of photography itself.
This profound experience led Andy and his wife Mary to embark on a collecting odyssey spanning nearly two decades. Over this time, the Pilaras curated one of the most extensive and notable collections of 20th-century and post-war photography globally.
In 2010, the Pilaras opened the doors of Pier 24 Photography, an exquisite exhibition space nestled on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Reflecting their commitment to photography and their philanthropic ethos, Pier 24 Photography remained free and accessible to the public. This space not only welcomed the global photography and fine art communities but also embraced schoolchildren, students, and emerging photographers. Through initiatives like the visiting artist program, commissioned projects, and various awards, Pier 24 Photography provided vital support to burgeoning talents.
As the Pilara Family Foundation transitions from an operating foundation to a granting foundation, all proceeds from these auctions will be channelled into healthcare research, education, and the arts. The foundation also intends to bestow further gifts from this remarkable collection to various institutions, solidifying its enduring legacy.
A Glimpse of Extraordinary Highlights
The series commences on 26 September with “Photographer Unknown,” an online auction of works from the Pier 24 Photography collection, all offered at no reserve. These photographs, many crafted by anonymous individuals lost to history, represent a significant facet of photography: the vernacular. The Pilara Family Foundation’s assortment of vernacular photography encompasses snapshots, hand-coloured commercial portraiture, occupational photo badges, press imagery, boxing headshots, mug shots, and souvenir albums. Each photograph weaves a unique narrative, bearing witness to the diverse applications of this medium, from crime documentation to advertising.
The pinnacle of the fall series arrives with a dedicated live sale at Sotheby’s New York on 25 October. This live auction celebrates one of the most substantial gatherings of photographs to ever grace an auction house, featuring seminal works by luminaries such as Richard Avedon, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Dorothea Lange, Robert Adams, and Edward Weston, among others.
December brings forth an online auction where additional treasures from the collection will find new homes. As with all the auctions, the proceeds will be directed towards supporting organizations devoted to healthcare research, education, and the arts.
Hiroshi Sugimoto: A Glimpse into Tudor History
Leading the fall sales is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s complete set of seven portraits depicting Henry VIII, King of England, and his six wives, inspired by Madame Tussaud wax figures. These evocative photographs, set against a stark black background, blur the lines between past and present, inviting viewers to contemplate history and time.
This offering stands as the sole complete set of photographs from Sugimoto’s iconic “Portraits” series to ever grace an auction. Other complete sets reside in esteemed institutions, such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Odawara Art Foundation in Kanagawa, Japan.
Dorothea Lange: A Gaze into Poverty and Dignity
Dorothea Lange’s “White Angel Breadline,” captured in 1933 during San Francisco’s Depression era, emerges as a poignant highlight (est. $100/200,000). This image epitomizes the isolation of poverty while preserving human dignity, as one man turns away from a breadline sponsored by a benevolent community widow known as ‘the White Angel.’
This photograph marked Lange’s departure from studio portraiture, foreshadowing her iconic work with the Farm Security Administration. In “White Angel Breadline, San Francisco,” Lange sought to capture her subjects’ resilience and dignity rather than their destitution. The auction also features six other photographs by Lange, including an alternate view of “White Angel Breadline” (est. $50/70,000).
Richard Avedon: Portraits that Speak to the Soul
The Minneapolis Portfolio, published in conjunction with Richard Avedon’s portrait retrospective in 1970, showcases 11 captivating photographs of actors, directors, poets, and British royalty. These portraits, taken between 1952 and 1964, transcend mere physical representation, delving into the emotional depths of the subjects. This complete portfolio, featuring portraits of luminaries like Ezra Pound and Marilyn Monroe, has not graced an auction stage in over a decade (est. $200/300,000).
Edward Weston: A Master’s Precursor
Edward Weston’s “Hand of Amado Galvan” presents a warm-toned platinum print, a testament to his early still-life compositions (est. $60/90,000). This masterpiece, capturing the potter Amado Galvan in Tonala, near Guadalajara, reveals a totemic study, where the potter’s muscular hand raises a clay ball against the Mexican sky.
This print, an integral part of the Pilara Family Foundation Collection, was featured in Weston’s 1927 exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, as well as in “A Showing of Hands” in 1932, alongside photographs by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Consuela Kanaga, Edward Steichen, and Imogen Cunningham. No other platinum prints of this calibre are believed to exist.
In conclusion, Sotheby’s Pier 24 Photography Auction Series offers a captivating journey through the annals of photography, weaving together history, artistry, and philanthropy. As these remarkable images find new homes, they continue to inspire and contribute to the betterment of society through the Pilara Family Foundation’s charitable initiatives.