Irving Penn: Underfoot

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition IRVING PENN: Underfoot from January 6 through March 5, 2005.

Irving Penn’s current body of work is comprised of the lowest of subjects, spit-out gum on the sidewalk.  The enlarged views of the gum present a wide array of visual interest, sometimes stuck on the ground in fascinating shapes, while others are bulbous and shiny, with layers folded in intricate patterns. The latter shapes are reminiscent of Mr. Penn’s closely cropped nudes of voluptuous women from the 1940’s and 50’s. The Underfoot series is an extension of his famous cigarettes and paper cup photographs from the 1970’s, the major distinction being that Mr. Penn has, for the first time, ventured out of the tightly controlled environs of his studio to photograph the street, literally. At first glance, the stark, beautifully executed black and white photographs appear somber and straight-forward. With further investigation into the compositions, images begin to emerge.  Faces appear, and once abstract shapes begin to take humanistic qualities. The chewed gum photographs convey aspects of classical marble sculptures and cubist paintings. Skulls, abstracted heads, lovers entwined, and fetal babies have all materialized in these discarded wads.  Katherine Ware, Curator of Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where the exhibition previously appeared) has stated that studying these photographs is an exercise not unrelated “to looking at clouds.”

First an art director, then a painter, Irving Penn came to photography in 1944. For nearly fifty years he has excelled in many different genres, producing a body of work that has had a major impact on fashion, portraiture, nudes, still life, and advertising. Internationally recognized, his work is included in the collections of many major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery, Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.