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Irving Penn: Centennial - An intimate look

Nestled in a side gallery, somewhat hidden amongst sculptural artifacts from ancient civilizations, sits the entrance to Irving Penn: Centennial. The exhibition is introduced with an encased Rolleiflex 3.5 E3 Twin-Lens Reflex Camera and this Penn quote just above it: “I myself have always stood in awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument that it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.”

Separated by smaller gallery rooms, Penn’s works are classified and sectioned off by varying bodies of work. Starting with his Still Life, Early Street Photographs and Existential Portraits, the exhibition opens with a seamless presentation of the works in these categories featuring some of Penn’s most notable “sitters” such as Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp and Igor Stravinsky.

The next set of galleries present images from various periods in his career, including his work as a fashion photographer under Vogue Magazine, and other career shaping modes of creativity including the series’ of Nudes, Small Trades, Cigarettes, Worlds in a Small Room, Time Capsules, Morocco (which features the exhibition’s only video component) and Late Still Life.

Irving Penn, Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes (1957), Platinum-palladium print, 26 x 22 in. -

Irving Penn, Dora Maar, France (1948), Gelatin silver print, 18 1/4 x 17 15/16 in.

Irving Penn, Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett) (1950), Gelatin silver print, 18 9/16 x 17 7/8 in -Irving Penn, Vogue, Six Issues: March 1, 1948, November 15, 1949, March 1, 1950, August 15, 1950, April 1, 1950, August 1, 1951, September 1, 1951, May 15, 1952, May 1, 1952

The Classic Portraits gallery room boasted his floor to ceiling studio backdrop, which was used to stage the very Classic Portraits exhibited in that gallery; adding a sense of familiarity for the viewer to imagine themselves being transported back-in- time to the actual photo-shoots as they happened in the images Penn captured.

Irving Penn, Canvas Backdrop,1945Width: 8 ft. 6 in. (259.1 cm) Diameter: 5 in. (12.7 cm)

The layout of the viewing space pairs nicely with the intimacy that Penn’s photographs embody. By having each individual subcategory of works exhibited in small, separate spaces it allows the viewer to meditate on the expanse of his career, in both fashion photography and the fine arts sector. From his Vogue covers that were created at a pivotal moment in the history of the fashion industry, to his sharply detailed object based photo-works -- like that of his cigarette or still life series -- Penn’s roughly 70-year career is exalted in this exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of his birth year.

Irving Penn: Centennial

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave - New York, NY 10028

Monday, April 24 - Monday, October 30, 2017

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