Photography That Inspires from Irving Penn at Pace Gallery

Portrait of a hand in black and white, now on display at the Pace Gallery

For more than 60 years legendary photographer Irving Penn worked "on assignment" for magazines such as The New Yorker, Look, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, as well as taking jobs from ad agencies, to shoot for the likes of Clinique, De Beers, and General Foods.

And as I wandered through the fantastic "Irving Penn: On Assighment" exhibition at one of the Pace galleries in Chelsea, I couldn't help but marvel at this seeming incongruity, that this giant of 20th century art, whose style and technique has influenced countless photographers, stylists, and art directors, was, technically, a freelancer. It would be as if, say, Willem de Kooning worked as a magazine illustrator his entire career, or the guy making animated GIFs for Buzzfeed were creating art for the ages.

Women walking around Pace Gallery admiring the photography of Irving Penn's exhibition

Irving Penn's Art for the Ages

But even without that context, Irving Penn's portraits and still life’s here would be remarkable. It's hard to say which among these groupings were my favorite, but a place to start would certainly be Penn's "portrait" of Miles Davis, four shots of the great jazz trumpeter's left hand, one of which you can see at top. Penn's series "The Incredibles", taken for Look in San Francisco, 1968, manages to capture that time and place as well anything I've ever seen, even though they were all taken in a studio. And his "Morocco" set, shot for Vogue in 1971, of women fully shrouded in dusty, ratty black robes, remains so stunning in its power I can only imagine what readers flipping through that fashion magazine felt back when the issue first came out.                

Irving Penn's famous portrait of a family posing for a photo, their faces all burred giving the impression of faceless-ness or ghosts

A Wowie-Zowie, Inspirational Show

In addition to being immediately engaging and flat beautiful to look at, Irving Penn: On Assignment at Pace Gallery is also a feast of creative inspiration. The way Penn used light, for example, was nothing short of revolutionary. His longtime colleague Alexander Liberman remembers that Penn created "luminous tents in which objects and, later, models acquired a clear stillness. These images were so new, so divorced from the current imagination that they were a revelation." And they still are. Writing in New York Magazine just last week, critic Jerry Saltz calls the exhibition a "wowie-zowie show. Deep insight, mystic vision, and wild lucidity prevail. See what changing the world while being a working artist is all about."  

Women looking up at Irving Penn's portraits, framed and hanging on the walls of Pace Gallery.

More Information: Irving Penn's On Assignment at Pace Gallery

"Irving Penn: On Assignment" was curated by Pace/MacGill and will be at Pace Gallery though October 26. Pace is located on 25th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. You can find more information about the Irving Penn show at Pace Gallery's website.

Irving Penn's Football Face portrait


Posted in NYC Events | Tagged