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Art Institute of Chicago presents Irving Penn. Underfoot

Art Institute of Chicago presents Irving Penn. Underfoot, on view through May 12, 2013.

Irving Penn. Underfoot XXXIII, New York, 2000. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of The Irving Penn Foundation in memory of James Wood. © by The Irving Penn Foundation.

The complete series of master photographer Irving Penn’s close-ups of Manhattan pavements transforms gum and cigarettes into cosmic abstractions.

The path that led Irving Penn to the seemingly galactic abstractions of his late series Underfoot lay just outside his studio door. Walking the streets of Manhattan with a portable stool and a camera fitted with several extension tubes, Penn lowered his eye and his equipment nearly to the pavement. There he found a universe of abject form: pebbled concrete, cheap discarded matches and cigarette butts, and above all a wealth of masticated gum. Capturing patches of this blobby urban landscape at close range, Penn transformed it with characteristic precision into a world of odd beauty, complete unto itself and unplaceably remote. Former Art Institute Director James Wood, with whom Penn had worked closely to establish the vast archive of his photographs and papers held at the museum, visited the studio and later marveled to Penn at how these photographs showed “the cosmos underfoot.” The Irving Penn Foundation has generously offered all 36 photographs from Underfoot as a gift to the Art Institute in Wood’s memory.

Art Institute of Chicago
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Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404

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