21 May 2010

Irving Penn Portraits closing soon!

If you haven't already seen the beautiful Irving Penn Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London then you need to hot-tail it down there and check it out because it's closing on Sunday 6 June!

Curated by the brilliant Magdalene Keaney, this show, which spans over six decades of Penn's work from 1944-2007, is the first significant exhibition of Penn's photography in the UK since 1984, when the Victoria & Albert Museum held John Szarkowski's Penn retrospective, which traveled from the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

This is the first time so many of Penn's portraits (over 120) have been seen in the same place at the same time, so it's a unique opportunity to gain both a deep and broad understanding of Penn's portraiture oeuvre. His prolific output includes portraits of many of the twentieth century's most important cultural figures, the likes of Lillian Hellman, the Bowles, Dali, Dior, Hitchcock, Le Corbusier, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Addams, Alexander Liberman, Duchamp, Eliot, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, Simone de Beauvoir, Yves Saint Laurent, Josephine Baker, Nureyev, Sontag, Anaïs Nin, Arthur Miller, Issey Miyake, Louise Bourgeois, Avedon, Helmut Newton, Hussein Chalayan, Robert Rauschenberg, Nicole Kidman, etc., etc., the list goes on!

Most of the prints in the exhibition are vintage and all evidence Penn's meticulous ability to produce not only breathtaking images but breathtaking photographic prints. The magazines arranged in cases throughout the space are extremely effective in giving a context to the prints on the wall; the vast majority of Penn's portraits are commissions from Vogue magazine, with whom he worked almost his entire career. The quotes from Penn which accompany each section of the chronologically-organised show add a really beautiful sense of the photographer's presence to the exhibition. I really urge you to visit and see for yourself.

The NPG have published, in collaboration with the Irving Penn Studio, a beautiful catalogue to accompany the exhibition, which includes thirty plates selected by the curator as well as her essay 'Challenging Conventions: Irving Penn’s Portraits’. I was lucky enough to obtain a copy and the quality of the reproductions here is honestly the best I've seen in any photo book, ever. To purchase and for more info, visit the Irving Penn Portraits microsite: npg.org.uk/irvingpenn


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