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Founding director of The Rose passes away

Published: August 22, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.


Founding director of The Rose Art Museum Sam Hunter once described artist Larry Rivers as a man who created an “astonishing and fertile career today … remarkable for more than its inventiveness, diversity and breadth of mood and vision.” One could say those same words about Hunter himself. Hunter lived a long and fulfilling life, dying of natural causes at the age of 91 in Princeton, New Jersey on July 27, 2014.

Hunter was originally born in Springfield, Massachusetts and graduated from Williams College in 1943. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946, became a lieutenant junior and was honored with five battle stars. In 1947, he began his professional art career. He became an art critic for The New York Times. After he studied at the University of Florence, Hunter became chief curator and acting director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and associate curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was at this point in his life that he began to bring in artwork by abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock and David Smith.

When Hunter became director of The Rose, he collected even more works which, according to BrandeisNOW, contained additional artwork by Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann, James Rosenquist, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Marisol, Morris Louis, Johns, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Warhol and more.

Hunter didn’t just study art—he delved into every sphere of it. His contributions seem limitless; he was a professor, director of many art museums and author of over 50 books. Some of his books include “Tom Wesselmann: Metalworks,” “Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture,” as well as books on Larry Rivers, Isamu Noguchi and George Segal, among others. He also wrote over 150 essays, museum and gallery catalogues and articles.

His hard work has not gone unnoticed—Brandeis President Frederick M. Lawrence recognizes Sam Hunter as playing “an integral role in the early days of the Rose Art Museum, and his prescient purchases propelled the museum into the consciousness of the art world just a few years after its founding. The way in which Hunter built the early collection, a discrete number of outstanding acquisitions, none for more than $5,000, is one of the iconic stories of the early years of Brandeis University. His impact on the Rose in particular and the university in general continues to this day.”

His honors and awards include an honorary doctorate from Brandeis in 2001, an Academico degree from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Italy and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1971. But it wasn’t just his achievements that made him stand out as a prominent figure in the art world. It was his influential role in the classroom that made worthy enough to be considered “one of the pioneers of the study of modern art as an academic field”—as said by Hal Foster ’17, the Townsend Martin and a professor of Art and Archaeology. Hunter created life-changing experiences for his students. He engaged them in an interactive environment full of critical thinking and took them to galleries, museums, private collections and art studios.

“Rather than leaving us to languish in libraries and learning from slides, he generously used all of his great contacts to immerse us in the contemporary art world,” pointed out the director and chief executive officer of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego Hugh Davies. Another one of his students, Professor of English and African American studies Anne Cheng ’85 has created “a lifelong passion for modernism and for visual culture” as a result of Sam Hunter’s lectures. She says, “I realized that I am coming back into a love bred by Sam Hunter. He will always be a major part of what Princeton means to me. I will remain indebted to his kindness and generosity as a teacher forever”.

Sam taught a range of courses; his complete dedication and involvement with greater depth and analysis of artwork and visual culture of modern art are only some of the many qualities that have transformed him into a significant leader. He will be dearly missed not only by his family, which includes his wife Maïa, their son Harry, and two daughters, Emmy and Alexa, and one grandchild, Isabella, but also by his fellow students and everyone else who has been greatly impacted by Hunter’s significant contributions.