Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
June 30 – August 20, 2011
49 Geary Street, 4th Floor San Francisco, CA 94108
T. +1 415 981 2661

The nearly thirty photographs on view at Radical Beauty explore Irving Penn’s radical and long-standing investigation into what constitutes beauty, an aspect of his career that has received only passing attention. These works reflect the artist’s deep appreciation for the diversity of human physiognomy, and challenge a media-driven and image-saturated society that has narrowed the very idea of beauty.

Known for depicting his subjects with a rare combination of precision and compositional elegance, Penn’s work contrasts elements of the grotesque and the sublime. Throughout his early career, as a photographer at Vogue, and then later in his personal work, he consistently questioned and reinvented the parameters of physical beauty. His early nudes, from the late 1940s, were not exhibited until over three decades later. Alexandra Beller (D), Nude 132, and Nude 18 are studies of an exuberance of flesh.

His subjects—from the highlands of Papua New Guinea to the high-society of the fashion world—are presented as distinct and particular. His portraiture is known for revealing the essentials of his sitter, devoid of superfluousness. In Five Okapa Warriors, New Guinea, the men face the camera frontally, their pierced nasal septums and bush arrows as rigid as their gaze. Several images in the exhibition obscure faces—Canvas Head With Hardware (Design by Jun Takahashi) and Football Face, among others—alluding to the masks of fashion and persona.