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Donors Endow Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at the Princeton Univ. Art Museum
Joel Smith, Curator of Photography at the Princeton University Art Museum since November 2005, has been appointed to the position.

PRINCETON, N.J.- The Princeton University Art Museum announces the founding of a curatorship in photography named for Peter C. Bunnell, who served Princeton University in the country’s first endowed professorship in the history of photography. Joel Smith, Curator of Photography at the Princeton University Art Museum since November 2005, has been appointed to the position.

“The generosity of a very special group of donors – Mr. and Mrs. Philip Maritz, The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fisher, Mr. and Mrs. John Fisher and Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Stuart – has enabled the establishment of this curatorship in honor of Peter Bunnell, a truly iconic figure in the history of photography. This will significantly enhance the Museum’s ability to advance scholarship and access to this world-class collection,” said James Steward, Museum Director. “We are deeply grateful to Peter for his path-breaking work and to these donors, whose vision will now benefit countless future generations of students and museum-goers.”

Photography’s decisive moment at Princeton came in 1971, when David Hunter McAlpin, Princeton Class of 1920, donated over 450 prints to the Museum. A friend and patron to two generations of American photographers, McAlpin donated substantial representations of the work of Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Eliot Porter, among others. At the same time, McAlpin created a fund with which some 400 photographs were acquired. Today, the collection numbers over 20,000 photographs, representing the evolution of the medium from its public debut in 1839 to the present.

With Peter Bunnell’s appointment in 1972 as the David H. McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art, Princeton University took a leading position in the art historical study of photography. Bunnell, previously a curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, combined the talents a scholar, lecturer, advocate and curator at Princeton, where he also served twice as director of the Princeton University Art Museum (1973-78 and 1998-2000). Through his service, Bunnell left Princeton with a leading graduate program in the history of photography and one of North America’s foremost teaching collections in the medium. The Minor White Collection and Archive, bequeathed upon that artist’s death in 1976, formed the basis for a major retrospective exhibition, organized by Bunnell, which toured the United States from 1989-91. The McAlpin Photography Study Center, constructed at the Museum in 1989, has given students and scholars not only from Princeton but also around the world a place to learn through the study of original prints, a principle central to Bunnell’s teaching method. He retired from the University in 2002.

“On behalf of many of us who were students of Peter Bunnell, his teaching was life-changing. I wanted to help this happen now, so that we can celebrate with him and see one of his long-held dreams realized. He is one of the most passionate and committed educators/curators I’ve ever encountered,” said Philip Maritz, Class of 1983, a lead donor to the endowment.

Newly appointed to the Peter C. Bunnell Curatorship is Joel Smith, who has been Curator of Photography at the Princeton University Art Museum since November 2005. “David McAlpin’s generosity and vision gave photography a place at Princeton,” Smith said, “And Peter Bunnell’s intelligence and energy brought that vision to fruition. It is a true pleasure, a great honor and a welcome challenge to carry their legacy forward.”

Joel Smith received a Ph.D. from Princeton in 2000. Since joining the Princeton University Art Museum in 2005, he has organized exhibitions at Princeton on subjects including serial and sequential photography, pictures within pictures, the legacy of Princeton professor of photography Emmet Gowin and the work of contemporary artist-activist Fazal Sheikh. He is the author of Edward Steichen: The Early Years (1999) and Saul Steinberg: Illuminations (2006) and editor of the anthology More than One: Photographs in Sequence (2008). Smith’s exhibition The Life and Death of Buildings, on the relationships binding architecture, photography and time, will open at the Princeton University Art Museum in July 2011.

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