In 2013, The Museum of Modern Art acquired over 600 works from the Shunk-Kender Photography Collection as a gift of the Roy Lichtenstein">Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. The donation established a consortium across five institutions—the Getty Research Institute, the National Gallery of Art, Centre Pompidou, Tate, and MoMA—that together received the full archive of photographic material by Harry Shunk (German, 1924–2006) and János Kender (Hungarian, 1937–1983), who worked collaboratively under the name Shunk-Kender from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.
This exhibition presents a selection of remarkable photographs by Shunk-Kender from the Museum’s collection, including five photographs of Yves Klein’s landmark work Leap into the Void (1960)—the iconic image that was published in Klein’s Dimanche-Le Journal d’un seul jour on November 27, 1960 (and distributed throughout Paris), along with four additional, and little-known, distinct views of the performance. Also featured are numerous photographs of Yayoi Kusama’s astonishing New York performances of 1968, including Mirror Performance—an ecstatic gathering of costumed, painted, and nude bodies within one of Kusama’s mirrored chambers—and multiple iterations of The Anatomic Explosion, in which dancers stripped and posed in front of the New York Stock Exchange and other Wall Street–area locations in an unconventional artistic protest against the Vietnam War.
A major portion of the exhibition is devoted to photographs from Pier 18. In 1971, a series of ephemeral artworks were executed at a derelict Hudson River pier in New York. Conceived and organized by Willoughby Sharp, the actions, instructions, and performances of Pier 18 were enacted in February and March of 1971 by 27 (all male) artists, including Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Jan Dibbets, Gordon Matta-Clark, Mario Merz, and Allen Ruppersberg, among others. Sharp invited Shunk-Kender to collaborate with each artist to photograph the individual projects. From the start, Sharp conceived of the project as an installation, in which Shunk-Kender’s photographs would be the physical manifestation of the work experienced by an audience. Indeed, it was through Projects: Pier 18 (June 18–August 2, 1971)—an exhibition at MoMA that was as part of the Museum’s experimental Projects series—that the public ultimately discovered and engaged with the Pier 18 projects.
Without question, the roles played by the two photographers varied from one project to the next. On the pier, Baldessari used his hands to mimic the view of their camera, emphasizing the framing choices inherent in the composition. Merz, on the other hand, suggested to the photographers that they select and record images entirely of their own preference. The resulting Pier 18 pictures capture the chaotic energy, systematic processes, and playful wit of the era’s performance and Conceptual art in two-dimensional black and white.
Pier 54, an homage to Pier 18 organized by High Line Art, is on view through December 13, 2014, at 120 Eleventh Avenue.