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Irving Penn: Capote, Dietrich and more than six decades of the fashion photographer
26 April, 2017 - 27 April, 2017
The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a major retrospective of the photographs of Irving Penn to mark the centennial of the artist’s
birth. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Irving Penn (1917-2009) mastered a pared-down aesthetic of studio photography that is distinguished for its meticulous attention to composition, nuance, detail, and printmaking. Irving Penn: Centennial, opening April 24, 2017, will be the most comprehensive exhibition of the great American photographer’s work to date and will include both masterpieces and
hitherto unknown prints from all his major series.
Long celebrated for more than six decades of influential work at Vogue magazine, Penn was first and foremost a fashion photographer. His early photographs of couture are masterpieces that established a new standard for photographic renderings of style at mid-century, and he continued to record the cycles of fashions year after year in exquisite images characterized by striking shapes and formal brilliance. His rigorous modern compositions, minimal backgrounds, and diffused lighting were innovative and immensely influential. Yet, Penn’s photographs of fashion are merely the most salient of his specialties. He was a peerless portraitist, whose perceptions extended beyond the human face and figure to take in more complete codes of demeanor, adornment, and artifact. He was also blessed with an acute graphic intelligence and a sculptor’s sensitivity to volumes in light, talents that served his superb nude studies and life-long explorations of still life.
Penn dealt with so many subjects throughout his long career that he is conventionally seen either with a single lens—as the portraitist, fashion photographer, or still life virtuoso—or as the master of all trades, the jeweler of journalists who could fine-tool anything.
The exhibition at The Met will chart a different course, mapping the overall geography of the work and the relative importance of the subjects and campaigns the artist explored most creatively. Its organization largely follows the pattern of his development so that the structure of the work, its internal coherence, and the tenor of the times of the artist’s experience all become evident.