Bea Nettles - The Eye That Shapes: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection New York Wednesday, January 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this online auction comes from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. All lots are sold with No Reserve and the proceeds will be distributed to six institutions with whom Bunnell was associated — Rochester Institute of Technology, Ohio University, Yale University, The George Eastman Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and Princeton University Art Museum — to establish endowments to support the study of photographic history.


    This work was shown in Peter Bunnell’s groundbreaking 1970 exhibition, Photography into Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art. Produced as a sequel to Bunnell’s 1968 exhibition Photography as Printmaking, Photography into Sculpture examined the ways artists of the time were utilizing photographic imagery to investigate three-dimensionality. By incorporating form and spatiality, the picture’s subject, literal or symbolic, was transformed. Bunnell wrote, ‘In the last few years artists from a variety of disciplines have embraced a new kind of photography in which many of the imaginary qualities of the photograph, particularly spatial complexity, have been transformed into actual space and dimension, thereby shifting photography into sculpture.’


    Installation image, Bea Nettles’s Pleasant Pasture II shown on left, from Photography into Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, 1970

    In 2014, Olivier Renaud-Clément and Hauser & Wirth mounted an exhibition exploring the legacy of Bunnell’s exhibition. The Photographic Object, 1970, included many of the works in the 1970s exhibition, including Bea Nettles’s Pleasant Pasture II. Recounting her process for creating the work, Nettles remarked, ‘At that point, the whole idea was the experimentation and the quilting and making a photographic landscape out of fabric. I hadn’t seen anything like it other than Claes Oldenburg.’


    Bunnell began his long career in photography as a student of Minor White’s at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the 1950s and was recruited by White to work on the seminal periodical of artistic photography, Aperture. He joined the staff of The Museum of Modern Art in 1966 as a collection cataloguer, becoming Associate Curator and then Curator of Photography. In 1972, he was hired as the inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton University.


    Bunnell served as Director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1973 to 1978, and as Acting Director from 1998 to 2000, while also being the Museum’s Curator of Photography throughout the entirety of his tenure. Bunnell built a broad-ranging collection of photographs at the Museum, the firsthand examination of which became a central element of the student experience in his classes and seminars. Bunnell also assembled a personal collection of photography over the course of his long career that reflects his vast and deep understanding of the medium. Begun in the 1950s, before photography galleries and dealers were commonplace, Bunnell’s collection is a deeply personal one, put together with a sense of joy and curiosity that includes both icons and lesser-known gems spanning the history of photography.

    • Provenance

      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey, acquired from the photographer

    • Exhibited

      Photography into Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April-July 1970

    • Literature

      Statzer, Mary, editor. The Photographic Object 1970. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016, p. 173, fig. 64

The Eye That Shapes: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection


Lot offered with No Reserve

Pleasant Pasture II

Hand-tinted photographic image on linen, stuffed and stitched.
9 1/2 x 7 3/4 in. (24.1 x 19.7 cm)
Signed, titled, and dated in pencil on the mount; Museum of Modern Art exhibition label on the reverse of the frame.

Full Cataloguing

$700 - 1,000 

Sold for $5,040

Contact Specialist

Christopher Mahoney

Senior International Specialist


Vanessa Hallett

Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman

The Eye That Shapes: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection

Online Auction 25 January - 1 February 2023