Irving Penn’s Work Now on Display in San Diego

October 2, 2018

By Mario A. Cortez

Known for boundary-breaking experimentation and for being a fixture of the world’s most prestigious fashion magazines, the work of Irving Penn is now on display in San Diego.

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) in Balboa Park is now hosting the exhibit Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty, a retrospective compilation of over 100 portraits captured by one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. The exhibit runs a chronological gamut starting with Penn’s first travel photographs taken during the 1930s and ending in post-modern still life concept photography critiquing notions of nature and beauty.

Born in 1917, Penn began his career in the arts during his college days working for Harper’s Bazaar as an illustrator while still developing himself as a painter, photographer, and industrial artist. His vision was informed by his technical studies and early travels to Mexico City, then a mecca for surrealist artists, and throughout the American South.

Later a world-travelling photographer, Penn photographed Peruvian alpaca farmers, European street workers, and African tribal members, among many other subjects, with the same technique and purpose as he would Parisian high-fashion models, something unthinkable at the time.

The end point of this exhibit, showing Penn’s work after the year 2000, decentralizes previous ideas seen in his commercial work and poses several questions about what can and should be photographed.

“He was very experimental because he spanned such a long period of time in his work,” explained Debra Klochko, MOPA executive director and chief curator. “He loved the medium of photography and believed it was more than a medium of expressing the beauty of fashion, but the beauty of everyday people and street life.”

Beginning its tour around the United States last year, the exhibition commemorates the 100th anniversary of Penn’s birth and is organized by the the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The work exhibited includes several images donated by the artist to the Smithsonian in 1988 and 100 more photographs donated by the Irving Penn Foundation.

Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty will be on display at MOPA through February 17, 2019.

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