Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Donates Images from the Shunk-Kender Photography Collection to 5 Institutions

Art Press Release from United States. Published by MOMA on Thursday 19 December 2013.

The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation have announced that the Foundation is giving approximately 200,000 black and white prints, color prints, negatives, contact sheets and color transparencies and slides from its invaluable Harry Shunk & Shunk-Kender Photography Collection to five major institutions, making permanently accessible an unmatched record of an entire era in the visual arts.

The donation is the first of its kind, establishing a consortium among the institutions that will both receive and share the materials—the Getty Research Institute, The Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, Centre Pompidou and Tate—and is notable for spanning the Atlantic, as did the careers of the photographers themselves. The collaboration of Shunk-Kender (Harry Shunk and Kender), based first in Paris and later in New York, took the core group of photographs from 1958 to 1973.

The collections also include photographs taken by Shunk alone in earlier and later years. These images offer a sometimes intimate and sometimes formal view of more than 400 prominent artists in their studios, at events such as openings and in the midst of their performances. They provide an historic document of the artworks of the period in the context in which they were first shown and are often irreplaceable as the only existing record of ephemeral artworks and actions. In some cases—such as the celebrated Shunk-Kender image of an airborne Yves Klein, Leap Into the Void (1960)—the photographs are themselves acknowledged as the work of art.

Frequently published but rarely credited and all but forgotten except by a few specialists, the photographs were in danger of being scattered after the death of Harry Shunk in 2006. The Foundation stepped in and acquired the photographs by purchase between 2008 and 2012 from the Estate of Harry Shunk and others. The Foundation has preserved, catalogued and digitized the photographs, established a free online archive of them and made them available as appropriate for reproduction in scholarly publications. Working with the consortium members over the past year, the Foundation has arrived at a division of its collection into five parts.

A very abbreviated list of the photographs’ subjects might include Vito Acconci, Arman, Joseph Beuys, Lee Bontecou, Trisha Brown, Alexander Calder, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Merce Cunningham, Lucio Fontana, the Gutai Group, Eva Hesse, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Joan Miró, Bruce Nauman, Barnett Newman, Nam June Paik, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Man Ray, Robert Rauschenberg, Lou Reed, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and Lawrence Weiner. Although Roy Lichtenstein is among the artists captured, the Foundation has acquired, organized and now gifted the photographs for what they represent as a whole, and not for the relatively small role played in them by Lichtenstein himself.

“We have been told that this is the first time that a foundation established by an artist has devoted its resources to a body of work by other artists and we are, of course, pleased to have established such a precedent,” Jack Cowart stated. “When this archive came to our attention, we recognized that an irreplaceable part of art history and future scholarship was at risk of being lost. We believed that in honoring the legacy of Roy Lichtenstein, the Foundation should also address the era in which he worked—an era that is preserved in astonishing fullness and vivid detail by Shunk- Kender and Harry Shunk. We feel very fortunate that we can now donate these riches to five outstanding and supportive institutions. We are, as always, deeply grateful to Dorothy Lichtenstein and the Board for making this possible.”

Dorothy Lichtenstein stated, “Roy, with his characteristic modesty, would have preferred that his foundation not be only about him and his art. I am delighted that we were able to acquire this collection. With their utterly unique documentation of the lives and works of overlapping generations of European and American artists of the 1950s through the 1990s, these photographs are going to be a priceless resource for the institutions we have selected and for the countless people those institutions serve worldwide.”