Peter Ungerleider (1947–1997) was born in New York and studied sculpture and film at the Rhode Island School of Design, New York Studio School and London’s Arts Lab. In 1970, Ungerleider moved to Laren, the Netherlands, where he spent most of his professional life. Following frequent and lengthy visits to the United States, Ungerleider returned to New York in 1990, residing in Manhattan until his death in 1997.
In 1972, Ungerleider began work on his Controlled Optical Printing System (COPS), an automated optical printer facilitating computerized editing and duplication of 35mm photographic slides. While developing the optical printer, Ungerleider also produced his Digital Projection System (DPS), an array of four slide projectors linked to a videotape player which controls a pre-programmed sequence of overlapping slides and ambient audio track. Ungerleider modified the DPS system to include as many as six projectors but never used this expanded arrangement in any exhibited work.
Artwork created on and for the optical printer and the Digital Projection System comprises the bulk of Ungerleider’s work and this collection. Ungerleider produced and screened four 16mm and Super 8 films between 1969-1977, and completed and exhibited eleven slide compositions between 1978-1987. He also experimented with sound and video, producing two audio installations in the mid-1980s and three video projects (two experimental, one documentary) in the early 1990s. In conjunction with his wife Erica Bilder, Ungerleider completed technical design and video instillation projects for two theatrical pieces, Cascando & Eh Joe and The Maids, in New York. At the time of his death, Ungerleider was working on a third theatrical project, Keelboat Talk and Manners, based on the work of Mark Twain.
Peter Ungerleider worked with a number of noted cultural figures, including writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997, poet John Giorno [b.1936] and his mother, historian and philanthropist Joy Ungerleider-Mayerson. Ungerleider recorded separate interviews with former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), and writer Quentin Crisp, both of which were originally intended for a public audience but have never been exhibited.
Through his work, Ungerleider engaged in significant dialogue about the nature of the moving image. Through both his photoplays and his film and video projects—which were largely comprised of still images—Ungerleider sought to explore uncommon, untraditional means of the creation and presentation of moving image media. Form and infrastructure are key themes in Ungerleider’s work, nearly all of which is also concerned with the mechanics of both the built environment and the tools used to document or illustrate that environment.
The Peter Ungerleider Collection was donated to Harvard University as a gift of the Estate of Peter Ungerleider in 2001. The Peter Ungerleider Collection includes copies of all surviving exhibited slide, film, video, and audio works as well as all known source footage, outtakes, sketches, notes, calendars and date books, components and spare parts for two COPS and two DPS systems, correspondence, financial records, photographs and ephemera. This collection will appeal to both researchers and students of experimental film and performance art, as well as scholars interested in art, poetry and civil rights issues.