Auction Results: Pier 24 Photography from the Pilara Family Foundation Evening Sale, May 1, 2023 @Sotheby’s

Over the past decade or two, we have seen many large art collectors decide to make the significant jump to start (and manage) their own smaller museums. Pier 24 Photography, the brainchild of Andy and Mary Pilara, opened in 2010 in one of the empty warehouse locations along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and essentially overnight, it became of the largest exhibition spaces devoted solely to photography anywhere. In the years since, the venue has built a strong reputation for itself, hosting nearly a dozen large scale exhibitions, publishing more than 20 books/catalogs, and slowly gathering a permanent collection of more than 4000 works by some 500 photographers.

But as we know well here in New York, rising rents and inflexible landlords are often behind the gallery moves we see on a relatively constant basis, and the Pilaras ran into similar challenges dealing with the San Francisco Port Commission. Faced with a rent price tag that was set to triple, they have decided to officially close up shop in the summer of 2025 and aim their philanthropic efforts and dollars in other directions. And as a result, the holdings of the museum will be sold off, starting with this evening sale and its day sale partner.

Set against a backdrop of an auction market for photography that has been relatively uneven over the past few years, with a few top dollar highlights but more pervasive weakness underneath those headlines, we might reasonably wonder about whether there will be enough frothiness of high end demand to soak up all of the inventory (particularly some of the big groups of pictures and full project sets) that will ultimately come out of Pier 24. But given the powerhouse results from this first tranche of works, perhaps we needn’t have worried.

Buoyed by a low overall Buy-In rate (under 4%, with one withdrawal) and a number of positive surprises, and given that all of the lots in this particular sale were in the mid and high price tiers, the numbers piled up quickly. The top lot Lee Friedlander set sold within its estimate range, only to be bested by an iconic Robert Frank print from The Americans (at a new auction record price for the artist). All of the lots with high estimates at $250000 or above found buyers, and when the dust settled, the Total Sale Proceeds (of roughly $7.1M) came in meaningfully above the top end of the aggregate pre-sale estimate range.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Summary Statistics
Total Lots 55
Aggregate Pre Sale Low Estimate $3948000
Aggregate Pre Sale High Estimate $5912000
Total Lots Sold 53
Total Lots Bought In 2
Buy In % 3.64%
Total Sale Proceeds $7106320

Here is the breakdown (using our typical Low, Mid, and High definitions):

Detailed Breakdown
Low Total Lots 0
Total Low Lots Sold NA
Total Low Lots Bought In NA
Low Buy In % NA
Aggregate High Estimate of Low Lots $0
Total Proceeds from Low Lots $0
Mid Total Lots 29
Total Mid Lots Sold 29
Total Mid Lots Bought In 0
Mid Buy In % 0.00%
Aggregate High Estimate of Mid Lots $872000
Total Proceeds from Mid Lots $1263650
Total High Lots 26
Total High Lots Sold 24
Total High Lots Bought In 2
High Buy In % 7.69%
Aggregate High Estimate of High Lots $5040000
Total Proceeds from High Lots $5842670

The top lot by High estimate was lot 11, Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens, 1961-1970/1960s, later, estimated at $500000-700000; it sold at $609000, but it was not the top outcome of the sale. That honor went to lot 28, Robert Frank, Charleston, S.C., 1955/1950s or early 1960s, estimated at $250000-350000, sold at $952500 (image above via Sotheby’s).

88.68% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range and there were a total of 9 positive surprises in the sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) (images above via Sotheby’s):

Lot 4, Marilyn Monroe, Self Portrait (Photo Booth Portrait), c1940, estimated at $8000-12000, sold at $27940

Lot 7, Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936/1940s, estimated at $200000-300000, sold at $609000

Lot 10, Alec Soth, Charles, Vasa, MN, 2002/2003, estimated at $15000-25000, sold at $76200

Lot 13, Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, Calif., 1969, estimated at $15000-25000, sold at $54610

Lot 16, Robert Adams, Colorado Springs, 1968/1995, estimated at $50000-70000, sold at $215900

Lot 23, Irving Penn, Woman in a Burlap Sack, New York, 2007, estimated at $20000-30000, sold at $60960

Lot 28, Robert Frank, Charleston, S.C., 1955/1950s or early 1960s, estimated at $250000-350000, sold at $952500

Lot 29, Consuelo Kanaga, She is a Tree of Life to Them, 1950, estimated at $25000-35000, sold at $83820

Lot 55, Deborah Luster, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, 1998-2001, estimated at $30000-50000, sold at $101600

The complete lot by lot results can be found here.

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Read more about: Alec Soth, Consuelo Kanaga, Deborah Luster, Dorothea Lange, Garry Winogrand, Irving Penn, Robert Adams, Robert Frank, Sotheby's

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Francesca Woodman @Gagosian

Francesca Woodman @Gagosian

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