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Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Acquires Harry Shunk Photographic Archive

NEW YORK, NY.- On the anniversary of Harry Shunk’s 84th birthday today, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation is honored to announce it has just acquired the entire photographic archive of renowned photographer Harry Shunk. The Foundation made this purchase at the public estate auction conducted by the Public Administrator, County of New York on August 29, 2008.

Harry Shunk died intestate on June 26, 2006 at age 81. While his photographs of art, artists, ephemeral performances, openings and rare events of the European and American art scenes are often critical documents known worldwide, the facts of his reclusive later life and his total oeuvre still deserve significant research.

The Shunk photographic archive collection numbers more than 100,000 items, with over 60,000 of his printed photographs. There are also many thousands of negatives (some of which may never have been printed) and contact sheets, all previously housed in his studio in Westbeth, West Greenwich Village, New York City. Scores of modern and contemporary European and American artists, their art and art events are featured. The images range from the iconic artist’s action photomontage Le Saut dans le vide [Leap into the Void], which Shunk confected with Yves Klein and Jean Kender in a Paris suburb in 1960, to Shunk’s primary documentary images of Christo’s Valley Curtain, early photographs of Andy Warhol, Lucio Fontana, George Segal, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Rauschenberg, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Claes Oldenburg, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Alan Kaprow “Happenings,” among numerous others. Shunk also photographed openings at the Sonnabend and Castelli galleries, café and art parties, Nouveau réaliste and conceptual art performances in Paris and New York, and many other emerging and important artists, critics and collectors of the second half of the twentieth century.

Shunk, whose name was spelled variously Schunk and Schunke, held a German passport and an American Green Card. Both documents give his birth city as Reudnitz (near Leipzig), and a birth date of October 4, 1924. The obituaries in 2006 incorrectly listed his birth city as Trieste, Italy and suggested his nationality was “possibly Austrian.” Other references have erroneously given Shunk’s birth date as 1942 and his citizenship as “possibly American.”

The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation is a private operating foundation established by the artist and his family to preserve and expand not only the artistic legacy of Roy Lichtenstein but also information about the art and artists of his time. Thus the Foundation will pursue all the details of Harry Shunk’s life and creativity - safeguarding, promoting and helping interpret his profound photographic legacy.

Dorothy Lichtenstein, widow of the artist, remarks: “Roy, given his characteristic modesty, would have preferred that his foundation not be only about him and his art. We are delighted that we have now been able to acquire the Shunk archive and to keep it from being randomly dispersed. The works need to be preserved and studied in context. We believe they are primary and rare documentation of a number of related generations of modern European and American artists of the 1950s through the 1990s.”

Jack Cowart, founding executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation, adds: “It was important for us to step in quickly to save this treasure trove of photographic art history and we thank Dorothy Lichtenstein for her immediate advocacy. Shunk led a fascinating life in fascinating times. We now have years of work ahead of us but we are intrigued by all the wonderful possibilities for institutional collaboration, new scholarship, new energies and a restored visibility to this reclusive photographer who frequently seemed to have been in the right place at the right time.”

He continues, “We owe a debt of gratitude to all who stepped in to protect these photos, to include his caring social worker, interested curators, the staff at Westbeth, representatives of the Public Administrator and those at the appraisal firm of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc. They recognized that this time capsule of rare photographic documentation and imagery promised to be much more than the sum of its parts and early on they facilitated keeping the collection intact.”

The public estate sale conveyed the artist’s copyright to the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. The Foundation will research the extent of the rights retained by the photographer and will work with qualified museums, researchers, publishers, artists and critics needing imagery and authorized permission.

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