Previous Next

An Irving Penn Retrospective

A unique eye for beauty.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty is the first retrospective of the American photographer’s work in 20 years. Featuring a total of 146 photographs, including several never before seen, Beyond Beauty presents pieces from all stages of Penn’s prolific 70-year career. Works on display span diverse genres, including ethnography, fashion, still life, and portraiture in black and white, colour, and the distinctive rich-toned platinum print Penn is credited for reviving in the early sixties. Penn’s talent lay in the radical sense of beauty with which he approached his subjects, be they rotten apples or rooster heads, stubbed cigarettes, or the raw steaks he anointed with butter and lurid egg yolk and photographed for Vogue’s 1994 editorial feature, Cholesterol’s Revenge. Merry Foresta, Beyond Beauty’s guest curator—and the Smithsonian’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999—says of Penn’s distinct eye: “He was able to elevate even crushed coffee cups and steel blocks to the realm of great art, printing his images with exacting care.” Visitors can also expect to see Penn’s iconic minimalist portraits of cultural icons from the forties, including Truman Capote, Salvador Dali, and Leontyne Price, renowned for the lucid, intimate glimpse they provide into the celebrities’ true selves.

Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty will be displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.) Washington, D.C, October 23, 2015–March 20, 2016.