Irving Penn | Resonance -Photography
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Irving Penn | Resonance

Palazzo Grassi is organising the first major exhibition dedicated to Irving Penn in Italy. “Resonance” is curated by Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery and brings together 130 photographs of the american artist taken between the end of the 1940s and the mid-1980s.

The exhibition is a collection of 82 platinum prints, 29 gelatin silver prints, 5 colourful dye transfer prints and 17 internegatives, which will be shown to the public for the first time. it tackles the themes dear to Irving Penn and which, beyond their apparent diversity, all capture every facet of ephemerality.

This is true of the selection of photographs from the series “small trades”, taken in France, England and the United states in the 1950s. Convinced that their trades would eventually disappear, Irving Penn immortalised, in his studio, newspaper men, street vendors, rag dealers, chimney sweeps, and many more, all in their work clothes.
It is also the case for the portraits taken between the 1950s and the 1970s of celebrities from the world of art, cinema, and literature – Pablo Picasso, Truman Capote, Marcel Duchamp and Marlene Dietrich, among others. Exhibited alongside ethnographic photographs of the people of Dahomey (from the 1960s) and of tribesmen from New Guinea and Morocco (from the 1960s and 1970s), they strongly underline the brevity of human existence, whether affluent or resourceless, famous or unknown.

The exhibition path, which encourages dialogue and connections between works that differ in subject matter and period of time, gives prominence to still life photography from the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s: they are composed of cigarette ends, fruit dishes, vanitas – assemblages of skulls, bones and other objects – as well as animal skulls photographed at the Narodni National Museum in Prague in 1986 for the series “Cranium Architecture”.
This broad overview of Irving Penn’s work puts relatively unknown images side-by-side with the most iconic ones, thereby revealing the particular ability to synthesize that characterizes this photographer: in his work, modernity is not necessarily in opposition with the past and the way he exerts control over every step of the process, from the studio to the printing (to which he dedicates a lot of attention and unprecedented care), enables one to come nearer to the truth of things and people, through a constant questioning of the meaning of time, of life and of its fragility.


Balenciaga sleeve, Regine. Paris. 1950



Miles Davis Close up 1986



Truman Capote 1965



Irving Penn


Irving Penn | Ingmar Bergman , Stockholm, 1964

Irving Penn | Ingmar Bergman , Stockholm, 1964


Irving Penn | Fishmonger, London, 1950

Irving Penn | Fishmonger, London, 1950



Dior Black Suit


Irving penn | scarred dahomey girl

Irving penn | scarred dahomey girl


Irving penn | Arthur Rubinstein | 1948

Irving penn | Arthur Rubinstein | 1948


Irving Penn | New York Still Life, 1947

Irving Penn | New York Still Life, 1947



Irving Penn | Ballet Society, New York, 1948




Jean Cocteau , 1948 – 1948









[divider]About Irving Penn [/divider]

Irving Penn was born in 1917 in Plainfield, New Jersey. in 1934 he enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum school of industrial Art where he studied design with Alexey Brodovitch. in 1938 he began a career in New York as a graphic artist – then, after a year painting in Mexico, he returned to New York City and began work at Vogue magazine where Alexander Liberman was art director.

Liberman encouraged Penn to take his first color photograph, a still life which became the October 1, 1943 cover of Vogue, beginning a fruitful collaboration with the magazine that lasted until his death in 2009. in addition to his editorial and fashion work for Vogue, Penn also worked for other magazines and for numerous commercial clients in America and abroad.

He published many books of his photographs including: Moments Preserved (1960); Worlds in a Small Room (1974); Inventive Paris Clothes (1977); Flowers (1980); Passage (1991); Irving Penn Regards The Work of Issey Miyake (1999); Still Life (2001); Dancer (2001); Earthly Bodies (2002); A Notebook At Random (2004); Dahomey (2004); Irving Penn: Platinum Prints (2005); Small Trades (2009); and two books of drawings and paintings.

Penn’s photographs are in the collections of major museums in America and abroad, including the Metropolitan Muse- um of Art, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which honoured him with a retrospective exhibition in 1984. this exhibition was circulated to museums in twelve countries. Irving Penn made a donation, in 1997, to the Art institute of Chicago of prints and archival material. in November of that year, the Art institute mounted a retrospective that also toured to 5 museums around the world beginning at the state Hermitage in st. Petersburg, russia.

In 2002, two exhibitions of Penn’s nude studies opened concurrently in New York City. “earthly Bodies: Nudes from 1949-50” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and “Dancer: 1999 Nudes” at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Both shows toured in the U.s. and Europe.

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All Photos credits: Irving Penn/Condé Naste Publications