Pace/MacGill Gallery presents its new exhibition Irving Penn: Personal Work, a survey of privately produced, uncommissioned photographs by the iconic American photographer Irving Penn (1917–2009). A companion to Irving Penn: On Assignment, presented by the galleries in 2013, the exhibition and its counterpart collectively offer a retrospective glance at the breadth of achievement of Penn’s legendary seven-decade career.
Probably the most prolific photographer of the 20th century, Irving Penn is celebrated for his innovative commercial imagery and groundbreaking editorial contributions to Condé Nast publications. In addition to his professional assignments, however, Penn pursued a variety of personal projects – such as nudes, self-portraits, signage, moving light portraits, and still lifes of seemingly inconsequential objects – to maintain an artistic balance throughout his career. Spanning a variety of subjects and genres, Penn’s extensive oeuvre explores the boundaries of personal and public expression, and subsequently art and commerce, through compelling images that expanded the creative limits of the medium. Moreover, his technical mastery of black-and-white and color photography, as well as the platinum printing process, earned him accolades in the realms of both commercial and fine art.
As early as 1949, just a year before his editorial images of the Paris couture collections would revise the visual aesthetics of fashion photography, Penn began what is considered perhaps his most personal but least well-known body of work: studies of tightly-framed, corpulent nudes that explore the beauty and physicality of the female form.
Unconventional in both subject and composition, the series was also radical in technique, as Penn drastically overexposed, bleached, and then redeveloped his prints to create unusual, stunning tonal effects.
A deft and distinguished practitioner of the still life, Penn embraced the genre from the outset of his photographic career. His first foray was published on the 1943 cover of Vogue at the suggestion of the magazine’s then art director, Alexander Liberman, and by 1947 Penn was producing a multitude of commercial still lifes for the printed page. In the early 1970s, however, he progressively dedicated more time to his private, uncommissioned work in which he transformed miscellaneous detritus into abstracted elements of artistic expression. Whether investigating the visual intrigue of seemingly inconsequential, discarded debris like bones, plumbing fittings and cigarette butts, animal skulls from the collection of the Narodni National Museum in Prague, or vessels from his personal collection, these images demonstrate Penn’s extraordinary ability to create strikingly eloquent compositions from the most unsuspecting materials.
Irving Penn, Personal Work
From January 29 to March 5, 2016
Pace and Pace/MacGill Gallery,New York