The exhibition Irving Penn: Resonance is sublime. It will be on display on the second floor of the Palazzo Grassi through December 31st. This marks the first time that the Palazzo Grassi - Punta della Dogana - François Pinault Foundation has organized a photography exhibition. The curators are Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery. The exhibition consists of 140 photographs in 15 rooms. This is not a retrospective—it lacks much of the commercial work in fashion and the remarkable still lifes shot for Vogue over the years—but more of a “rereading” of Penn and his quest for the Holy Grail: the perfect print.
Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery are the two curators of the exhibition Irving Penn: Resonance. Apraxine is the legendary curator of the Gilman collection, one of the finest photography collections in the world, which was sold a little over ten years ago to the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Irving Penn was one of the most significant and prolific photographers of the 20th century whose signature blend of classical elegance, cool minimalism and monumentality still command our attention. He had a major impact on the world of photography as well as the world of art. Penn is one of the most comprehensive photographers of the 20th century.
It was 1980 - I was 27 and I wrote to Irving Penn, asking if I might come and see him. I had just returned to New York from four years as a photographer, printer and gallery director in Paris. I was starting a publishing company to make books by great photographers and artists. I wanted to make their pictures sing on the printed page. I dreamed of publishing Penn's work. He was 63, at the peak of his powers after a 40-year career, and I revered him as a great master. He wrote me back a handwritten note, which impressed me no end, inviting me to meet him for a sandwich at his studio.
The opening of the Irving Penn exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi on April 12th was an event, or more precisely a sequence of events. The first was the discovery, in this space normally dedicated to contemporary art, of the ambition, high standards and scope of François Pinault’s collection of photography. The second was how this exhibition allows visitors to see an extraordinary collection of Irving Penn’s work. It was a shock.
In 1991, at the occasion of the release of Penn's book, by Nicholas Callaway, Paris Match published this article.
Irving Penn, 74, is now reflecting on his past. The century passes by before our eyes, transformed by the vision of a master. Whether he’s photographing the “mud men” of Papua New Guinea, a painter, a writer, a boxer, a star, cigarettes butts or a plate of bouillabaisse in Barcelona, he goes beyond appearances. He’s an entomologist who captures the soul of people and things.
Irving Penn is the photographer who impressed me the most. He was the biggest perfectionist, the most intransigent photographer I ever met. I met him several times. The first was in 1975 for the 100th issue of Photo. Roger Thérond, head of the magazine back then, wanted a portfolio of Penn, Avedon and Hiro. The latter two considered Penn their mentor and agreed to participate if he would.
The exhibition The Illusion of Light explores the physical, aesthetic, symbolic, philosophical and political stakes of an essential dimension of human experience that has also been, since (at least) the Renaissance, a fundamental element of art: light.