Irving Penn

Edge of Beauty

Jun 22 – Jul 13, 2024
Opening Reception
Jun 27, 2024
6 – 8 PM
Exhibition Details

Irving Penn
Edge of Beauty
Jun 22 – Jul 13, 2024


Thaddaeus Ropac
7 Rue Debelleyme


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(opens in a new window) @the.irving.penn.foundation

Above, Irving Penn, Protractor Face (Jaime Rishar), 1994 © The Irving Penn Foundation, courtesy Pace Gallery
Pace is pleased to present a pop-up exhibition in collaboration with Thaddaeus Ropac, featuring fourteen photographs by Irving Penn, curated by Tom Pecheux, Global Beauty Director for YSL Beauty.

Renowned for his style of elegant, aesthetic simplicity across fashion imagery, portraiture, and experimental personal work, Irving Penn produced beauty photographs that are distinctive for their understated humour and technical concision. These works—many made for Vogue during his sixty-five-year tenure there—illustrate concepts loosely related to the cosmetics featured in the magazine, often employing the same formal qualities established by Surrealism to hybridise editorial imagery with fine art.

Bee on Lips (1995), included in the presentation, is an extreme close-up of a bee crawling across a vividly rouged mouth. Emblematic of Penn’s use of visual puns, it refers to the popular 1950s phrase "bee stung lips". In Mascara Wars (2001), a bloodshot eye starkly contrasts with the model’s powdered snow-white face, with two mascara wands poised at the base and tip of her eyelashes, suggesting a pause in the action. Whilst Penn is known for his extraordinary ability to capture beauty, his works simultaneously render a latent darkness. Juxtaposed with the inexorability of decay, his works endure precisely because they compel viewers to return again and again in an attempt to comprehend their hidden meaning, drawing parallels with artists such as Man Ray.

Penn’s work is consistently characterised by the formal beauty of the photographic medium. His sparse compositions and juxtaposition of sharp line with soft flesh create images that are visually arresting, even—or especially—when they verge on the grotesque or painful. In his beauty photographs, it is the unexpected that captures the viewer, prompting Alexander Liberman, editor of Vogue from 1943, to call them "stoppers"—images that make time stand still amid the magazine’s pages.


About the Artist


About the Artist

Irving Penn studied design from 1934–38 with Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. Following a year painting in Mexico, he returned to New York City and began working at Vogue magazine in 1943, where Alexander Liberman was art director. Penn photographed for Vogue and commercial clients in America and abroad for nearly 70 years. Whether an innovative fashion image, striking portrait, or compelling still life, each of Penn’s pictures bears his trademark style of elegant aesthetic simplicity. In addition to his editorial and advertising work, Penn was also a master printmaker. Beginning in 1964, he pioneered a complex technique for making platinum-palladium prints, a 19th century print process to which he applied 20th century materials.

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