“Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty” is currently on view at the Dallas Museum of Art through August 14, 2016.


Irving Penn, famous celebrity and fashion photographer, started out photographing the streets and spent his time in between portrait shoots setting up still lifes and making pictures of garbage he found on the street (and garbage on the street too).

The prints in the show—most recently produced, from original negatives—are great to see in person, but I found something interesting. Some of the prints in the show look better than the reproductions in the book, but in many (most?) cases, the reproductions in the book are of relatively higher quality, with what looks to my eyes like more accurate color and exposure, etc. It’s sorta strange.

The egg picture in the show is better than the reproduction in the book, as are the pictures of cigarette butts and chewing gum, but Two Glasses of Water is better in the book. It’s probably something to do with viewing distance and dpi and all that.

Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty the book also has several more images in it. I don’t know if the Dallas version of the show was shrunk from the Smithsonian original or what, but there are more of the “Corner Portraits,” still lifes, and some other series in the book. In only one case do I remember a picture from the show that doesn’t appear in the book.

There are a couple of pictures that prefigure some of the stuff from that Photography is Magic survey I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Girl with Fruit, Shoe, and Butterflies, New York (1946) and Still Life with Triangle and Red Eraser, New York (1985) in particular look like a touchstone for Michele Abeles and the Penn’s titles—essentially lists of the contents of the picture—prefigure the titles found in the New Formalism vein.

And Penn’s influence stretches beyond that, I’m sure (and in fact, I expect the little bit I noticed is a tiny, largely immaterial part of his influence on the wider photography and art worlds), so if you’re in Dallas between now and August 14 pop by the DMA and check out the show. It’s worth the bucks to get in.

If you miss it in Dallas, Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty will be moving on:

  • Boston, Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University, September 10-December 16, 2016
  • Nashville, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, February 24-May 21, 2017
  • Wichita, KS, Wichita Art Museum, September 30, 2017-January 7, 2018

So if you’re at one of those places, pop in and visit the show. It’s worth your time. And if not, maybe pick up the book: it’s also worth it (though not necessarily at the wildly inflated prices as of March, 2021…).

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