Irving Penn in Italy: A Master Gets a Venice Retrospective

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Irving Penn is one of the icons of modern photography. Now, five years after this death, the American artist is the subject of his first major retrospective in Italy, the exhibition “Irving Penn, Resonance” which runs through January 6, 2015, at Venice’s grand, canal-side Palazzo Grassi.

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The career-spanning exhibition includes 130 photographs taken from the late 1940s through the mid ’80s: 83 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.

Thematically, the works also span the photographer’s career from his images of everyday workers in the “small trades” series of the 1950s, to his incisive, high-glamour portraits of midcentury cultural glitterati like Truman Capote and Penn’s own wife, the model Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, to his lesser-known still lifes and vanitas. The exhibition places these works against another side of the artist’s creative output, his ethnographic images photographed as formal portraits in exotic locales from the Republic of Dahomey to New Guinea to Morocco.

As Penn, a longtime contributor to Vogue magazine, once said: “A beautiful print is a thing in itself, not just a halfway house on the way to the page.” And few photographers have ever come anywhere close to the artist’s mastery of the print, which, he wrote in his 1991 autobiography, he spent thousands of hours silently perfecting in the dark room. This attention to detail, along with Penn’s penetrating eye and painterly style has made the artist one of the most desirable photographers in history.

Looking to add an Irving Penn print to your own collection? Lofty.com is currently offering “Man in White, Woman in Black (Morocco),” taken in 1971 and printed in 1978, from the artist’s Moroccan series.

Images (l to r): Truman Capote (1 of 2), New York, 1965, Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.; Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett), New York, 1950, Copyright © by Condé Nast Publications, Inc.