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Hunter, Sam

    Image Credit: Princeton

    Full Name: Hunter, Sam

    Other Names:

    • Sam Hunter

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 05 January 1923

    Place Born: Springfield, Hampden, MA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Modern (style or period)


    Modernist art historian and Princeton University professor. Hunter’s parents were Morris Hunter and Lottie Sherman (Hunter). Hunter attended Williams College, receiving an A.B. in 1943, Phi Beta Kappa. During World War II, Hunter served in the U.S. Navy, 1943-1946 where he rose to lieutenant junior grade and awarded five battle stars. He joined the New York Times as art critic in 1947 (through 1949), continuing study at the University of Florence where he was awarded a Certificate of Studies in 1951. In 1952 Hunter began a long association with the art publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc., then only a three-year-old company–both publishing and editing–as an editor, though initially only one year, before moving to Arts (magazine) editor in 1953. He married Edys Merrill in 1954. His first book for Abrams, Raoul Duffy was published for the Library of Great Painters series the firm was developing in 1954. In 1955 he was appointed associate professor of art history, University of California, Los Angeles, associate professor, but a call to the Museum of Modern Art, New York to be a curator of painting and sculpture took him from UCLA in 1956. Hunter moved again to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to be chief curator and acting director in 1958. Hunter merged academics and museum work, teaching at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, at the rank of associate professor of fine arts and director of Rose Art Museum and of Poses Institute of Fine Arts in 1960. He was appointed director of the Jewish Museum, New York City in 1965, succeeding Alan Solomon (1920-1970), who had moved the museum into contemporary art. He also began lecturing as a visiting professor, Cornell University, 1967-1969. Hunter fell into a public disagreement with the board of the museum regarding how much the museum should focus on contemporary art. He resigned in in 1969 and appointed (full) professor of art and archaeology and curator of modern art at Princeton University Art Museum the same year and returning to advising Harry N. Abrams, as consulting editor. He acted as vice-president and editor-in-chief for the firm 1971-1972, followed by a Guggenheim fellowship for the 1971-1972 year. In the 1970s, Abrams attempted to follow the success of their survey of the history of art by Horst Woldemar Janson; Hunter wrote the first edition of his survey on modern American art, American Art of the 20th Century in 1972 and a monograph on Larry Rivers. He was the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor, Clark Art Institute and Williams College for 1976 and divorced his first wife. Hunter and Milton W. Brown combined Brown’s History of American Art to 1900, 1977, with Hunter’s to form one survey of American art in general, released in 1979. He wrote the history of MoMA and its collection for the Museum, published in 1984. He married Maia Natasha Spiegelman (b. 1958), a painter and arts administrator, in 1986.

    Selected Bibliography

    Raoul Dufy. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1954; American Art of the 20th Century. New York, H. N. Abrams, 1972; Rivers. New York, H. N. Abrams, 1972; and Brown, Milton. American Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Decorative Arts, Photography. New York: Abrams, 1979; The Museum of Modern Art, New York: the History and the Collection by Museum of Modern Art. New York: H. N. Abrams/Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984;


    Esterow, Milton. “Director of Jewish Museum Quits in Policy Rift, Hunter Decries ‘Increasing Emphasis on Judaica,’ He Stressed Avant-Garde Art in Two-Year Tenure.” New York Times October 25, 1967, p. 42; Halasz, Piri. “Art Criticism (and Art History) in New York: the 1940s vs the 1980s–Part one: the Newspapers.” Arts Magazine 57 (February 1983): 91-3ff.; personal correspondence, Maia Hunter, August 2012.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Hunter, Sam." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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