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Irving Penn’s Summer of Love Photos Showcased in San Francisco

Exhibition of the Week: A major retrospective spanning the revered photographer's 70-year career.

By Irenie Forshaw

Widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, Irving Penn is revered for his striking portraits and iconic Vogue covers. A major exhibition spanning every period of the prolific artist’s 70-year career has touched down on the West Coast at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, giving visitors the chance to see a collection of his revolutionary works.

Running through July 21, 2024, the exhibitionIrving Penn – will showcase 175 pieces dating right back to the late 1930s. Organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in collaboration with The Irving Penn Foundation, it’s the most comprehensive retrospective of the celebrated photographer in history.

Among the photographs on display are Penn’s famed portraits of cultural icons including Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Truman Capote and Joan Didion. These are presented alongside his abstract nudes and early documentary street scenes; portraits of everyday tradespeople and laborers; and fashion studies from his time as a regular contributor at Vogue.

[See also: Inside the Edward Burtynsky Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery]

irving penn exhibition san francisco
Installation view of “Irving Penn,” de Young, San Francisco, 2023. Photo by Gary Sexton. Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

A section of the new Irving Penn exhibition is dedicated entirely to his pictures taken during the Summer of Love. Commissioned by Look magazine, Penn traveled to San Francisco in 1967 to photograph the explosive counterculture movement in the city’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

An eight-page spread, The Incredibles, was published the following year featuring his legendary images of the hippy communities, members of the Hells Angels and the avant-garde San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop. Keep an eye out for Penn’s rarely-seen experimental photographs of nude workshop dancers performing American choreographer Anna Halprin’s The Bath.

irving penn hells angel
Irving Penn. Hells Angel (Doug), San Francisco, 1967. Gelatin silver print. Image: 18 13/16x 19 11/16 in. (47.8 x 50 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation, 2021. © The Irving Penn Foundation.

“Irving Penn is a giant of 20th-century photography whose portraits and still lifes were transformative for the medium,” said Thomas P Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“We are delighted to present the most extensive retrospective of his work to date here in San Francisco, [the] epicenter of the countercultural movements Penn so masterfully captured in his vibrant photographs from the 1967 Summer of Love. The energy of those images underscores the longstanding impact of Bay Area culture within the United States and, indeed, around the world.”

[See also: Art Explora’s Traveling Museum Boat to Set Sail from Marseille]

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