The Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired 100 photographs by the legendary photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009), one of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century. Penn is best known for the spare, elegant style he applied to the fashion, still-life and portrait photographs he produced for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His aesthetic and technical skill earned him accolades in both the artistic and commercial worlds throughout his career.The 100 photographs given to the museum by the Irving Penn Foundation include rare street photographs from the late 1930s and 1940s, most of which are unpublished; images of post-war Europe; iconic portraits of figures such as Agnes de Mille, Langston Hughes and Truman Capote; color photographs made for magazine editorials and commercial advertising; self-portraits; and some of Penn’s most recognizable fashion and still-life photographs. All the prints were made during the artist’s lifetime and personally approved by him.
Some of these images, are familiar, and some—like his series from a road trip through the American South in the early 1940s—not well-known. In 1988, American Art received a gift of 60 photographs from Mr. Penn that spanned his career from 1944 to 1986. Together with this recent gift, these 160 images will form the basis of an exhibition of Penn’s photographs in 2015; many can be seen in a slideshow on SAAM’s website.
The exhibition will be curated by Merry Foresta, who will also contribute to the catalogue. Foresta, an independent consultant for the arts who was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999, says “This gift to the museum of rarely exhibited works by Irving Penn creates an opportunity to present a revealing retrospective and a look at the influential legacy of this important American photographer.”
“Irving Penn was responsible for some of the most iconic photographs in 20th-century American culture,” said Lisa Hostetler, the museum’s McEvoy Family Curator of Photography. “His portraits and fashion photographs defined elegance in the 1950s, yet throughout his career he also transformed mundane objects—storefront signs, food, cigarette butts, street debris—into memorable images of unexpected, often surreal, beauty. Such images had a profound impact on generations of photographers and continue to inspire artists today.”
In 1983, the Smithsonian American Art Museum began to seriously collect photography, first under the guidance of Foresta, followed by Toby Jurovics and now under Hostetler. Its holdings range from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works. Selections from this pioneering collection are currently on display in A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, guest curated by Foresta. The exhibition, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s photography program, showcases 113 photographs from the permanent collection. A complementary website is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online and on mobile devices at americanart.si.edu/photographs.
Posted: 13 August 2013