FIRST RETROSPECTIVE IN 20 YEARS OF MASTER PHOTOGRAPHER IRVING PENN OPENS AT NASHVILLE’S FRIST CENTER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Irving Penn (1917–2009), known for his iconic fashion, portrait, and still-life images that appeared in Vogue magazine, ranks as one of the 20th-century’s most prolific and influential photographers. The first retrospective of his work in 20 years, Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty conveys the breadth and legacy of the American artist and will be on view Feb. 24-May 29 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
Organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Merry Foresta, the museum’s curator of photography 1983-1999, the exhibition contains more than 140 photographs, including the debut of 100 photographs recently donated by The Irving Penn Foundation and several previously unseen or never-before-exhibited photographs.
Penn’s fame as a fashion photographer is matched by the recognition of his innovative and insightful portraits, still life’s, nudes, and travel photographs. The exhibition features work from all stages of Penn’s career, including street scenes from the late 1930s, photographs of the American South from the early 1940s, celebrity portraits, fashion photographs, and Penn’s late color work.
Penn’s aesthetic and technical skill earned him accolades in both the artistic and commercial worlds. He was a master of both black-and-white and color photography, and his revival of platinum printing in the 1960s and 1970s was a catalyst for significant change in the art world. He successfully crossed the chasm that separated magazine and fine-art photography, narrowing the gap between art and fashion.
The exhibition is arranged in reverse chronology, allowing viewers to peel away layers of history by moving from the present into the past. In Bee, made for Vogue in 1995, Penn reflects the decadence that permeated much fashion photography of the nineties. Penn’s equally assertive portraits show cultural figures such as dancer Rudolph Nureyev, singer Leontyne Price, and painter Francis Bacon in intimate close-up. Taken in the late 1940s, these photographs depict artists, writers, and others posed in a constructed corner, often in positions suggesting discomfort and claustrophobia.
His earliest works of urban street scenes from the late 1930s and photographs of the American South made during a road trip from New York to Mexico in 1941–1942 show Penn to be attuned to the photography of his own time, especially the documentary approach of Walker Evans and the New York Photo League. At the same time, they echo Surrealism’s fascination with provocative juxtaposition and symbolic meaning.
This exhibition is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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