A SENSE OF PLACE: PIER 24, San Francisco, California, By ETTD Contributor Ayden L.M. Grout
Pier 24’s building is tucked under the Bay Bridge, home to the Pilara Foundation Collection, an impeccably curated private collection that traverses many periods within photo history. The exhibition space is unique in it’s approach to the audience the rotating shows are free to the public, who can book appointments for one of several time slots each day. Reservations for each of the three daily entry times cap out at 20, so visitors are guaranteed elbow room while taking in works sprawling between the expansive interior, which includes 20 galleries.
Currently, Pier 24 is showing A Sense of Place, an exhibit that considers space, broadening the genre of landscape so as not to bind it to the earth, but rather allow the term to encompass homes as much as horizons. The most alluring images of the exhibit are those of interstice between interior and exterior space, those that look out from within, or that find the hole to look in on private space from the outside. Lucia Koch’s Spaghetti (2 windows) (2006) captures a soft light cast through the cellophane windows of a cardboard pasta box, eliciting a startling sense of nostalgia despite depicting a space we cannot occupy. The light of Veronika Kellndorfer’s Lovell Beach House (2008), a large black and white screen print on a pane of glass looking out a wall of windows onto the sand, recalls the film of fog that hovers over San Francisco. Robert Adams’ iconic black and white photo Colorado Springs, Colorado gazes through a window in the front of a house to another pane of glass in the back, silhouetting a woman standing between two windows. The image punctures the private space, casting light through a hole, light piercing from front to the back of the house.
Perhaps one of the most striking works on display in A Sense of Place is not a photograph, but a video piece titled House, by Doug Aitken. The film dryly observes Aitken’s parents sitting at a table, looking at one another in an ambivalent manner as the house literally splits apart. The walls splinter, pieces of the ceiling fall, bit by bit the shell of home rips, splits and collapses. Somehow amidst the destruction there is a poignant feeling of calm, maintained by the indifference of the couple’s maintained eye contact with one another. Their refusal to acknowledge the destruction surrounding them is an exquisite sort of grandeur, pushing them into oblivion with the dust of a fallen place.
Other highlights include a room devoted to horizon lines from the Collection of Paul Sack & the Sack Photographic Trust, each photo hung on the wall to align the camber of the earth. Lee Friedlander’s selections from the series America by Car (1992-2009) present a selection of images that are united by the frame of his movements around the country. Two photos by Rinko Kawuchi, both Untitled from the series Ametsuchi (2012-3) depict the pause inside devastation, showing the ashen grasslands amidst a fire. Asako Narahashi’s images Kawaguchiko #6, 4, 2 (2003) and Mekari (2004) are caught in the buoyancy of the horizon line amidst the ocean. Some galleries are devoted to the work of a sole photographer, while others approach themes within the idea of place, including “Scale and Space” and “Home.” The show is thorough and expansive in the terrain it covers, spanning the conceptual with Erik Kessel’s room brimming with all the photos uploaded to Flickr in a 24-hour period, the men famed for photographing the quiet yet mundane moments of America (Stephen Shore, Jeff Wall, Robert Adams), to the soft and visually stunning pieces by Todd Hido, Richard Learoyd, John Chiara. Pier 24 not only demonstrates a commitment to present a diversity of photographic forms and subject matter, but upholds a rare devotion to the experience of visitors. Entering the building on the water without the impatience that comes with queues, moving throughout the work unimpeded by the disturbance of crowds or noise, invites visitors to have a an uncommon intimacy with the work.
A Sense of Place is on view thru May 1, 2014.