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Metropolitan Museum Presents First Major Exhibition of Irving Penn Nudes

Exhibition Dates: January 15—April 21, 2002
Exhibition Location: Drawings, Prints, and Photographs Galleries, Second Floor
Press Preview: Monday, January 14, 10 a.m.—noon

One of the world's preeminent photographers, Irving Penn is famous for portraiture, still life, and fashion work – but is less well known as a superb photographer of the female nude. Earthly Bodies: Irving Penn's Nudes, 1949-50, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from January 15 through April 21, 2002, features 60 exquisitely wrought silver and platinum prints in the first exhibition of this work organized by a major museum.

The photographs on view were made more than 50 years ago when Penn collaborated with several artists' models in a series of intensive sessions in his studio. The women he chose and the ways he viewed them produced nudes that were highly unorthodox by mid-century fashion standards: their fleshy torsos are folded, twisted, and stretched, with extra belly, mounded hips, and puddled breasts. Sisters of Titian's and Rubens's Venus, they are charged with powerful physical and sexual energy, yet remain somehow chaste.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented on the exhibition: "The Metropolitan is proud to be the first museum to present Irving Penn's great nudes to the larger public they deserve. Their voluptuous forms extend a tradition that began with the earliest depictions of the human form, the archaic fertility idols found in sites scattered around the world."

A student and protegé of legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, Penn later made his name working closely with Alexander Liberman as a contributor to Vogue magazine. His innovative, graphically compelling fashion photography did much to define postwar notions of feminine chic and glamour. Seeking an artistic antidote to the ephemeral, surface world of the ladies' magazines, in the summer of 1949 he began a private series of sittings with artists' models whose earthy physicality offered a refreshing break from fantasy and artifice.

"The 1949-50 series of nudes is Penn's most deeply personal but least known work," commented Maria Morris Hambourg, Curator in Charge of the Metropolitan's Department of Photographs. "He organized the studio sessions on weekends and holidays, when he had time to indulge his imagination and follow freely the train of his attention. The organic way the photographs emerged, each one evolving from the last and then merging into the next, registering the subtle movement from one position to another, makes them fresh, unlike any nudes ever created."

Earthly Bodies: Irving Penn's Nudes, 1949-50 is organized by Maria Morris Hambourg, who has also written the accompanying catalogue of the same title, published by Bulfinch Press, a division of Little Brown and Company, Boston, New York, and London. The publication will be available in the Museum's shop for $75.00.

The design of the exhibition is by Michael Langley, Exhibition Designer, with graphics by Barbara Weiss, Graphic Designer, and lighting by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's Web site at www.metmuseum.org.

After it is presented at the Metropolitan, the exhibition will be on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from June 1 through October 6, 2002, and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from May through July, 2003.

A selection of Irving Penn's more recent nudes will be on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art from January 12 through May 12, 2002. This exhibition, Dancer: 1999 Nudes by Irving Penn, is co-organized by the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


November 15, 2001

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