From April 13 through December 31, 2014, Palazzo Grassi
presents Irving Penn, Resonance, the first major exhibition dedicated to the American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009) in Italy.
The exhibition Irving Penn, Resonance, curated by Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery, brings together on the second floor of Palazzo Grassi 130 photographs, taken between the end of the 1940s and the mid-1980s. It is the first time Palazzo Grassi-Punta della Dogana-François Pinault Foundation presents an exhibition of photographs from the collection, thereby demonstrating its commitment to this major medium of creation. Part of these photographs comes from. Kuniko Nomuras collection, which was assembled in the 1980s with the help of Irving Penn himself. He indeed put together photographs that, according to him, could sum up his work in a complete and coherent way.
The exhibition is a collection of 82 platinum prints, 29 gelatin silver prints, 5 colorful 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 immortalized, 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 Penns 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.
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.
Penns photographs are in the collections of major museums in America and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum 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 honored 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 Penns 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.