Irving Penn photo exhibit on display at Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts


Photography enthusiasts can have a field day right now in Balboa Park, starting with “Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty,” the current show at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA).

Irving Penn (1917-2009) was famous for giving a new look to fashion photography in Vogue magazine in the mid-20th century. But there’s much more to his work than Vogue-ing, as this 160-piece exhibition shows.

On view are wartime and Depression-era scenes, portraits of celebrity artists and writers, street vendors and children, unusual nudes, animal skulls, still lifes and, of course, some starkly beautiful fashion photos, too.

Most images are black and white, but there’s also color, like the bouillabaisse blown up to several times life-size that gives theatrical presence to crawfish and shrimp. More than 70 years of Penn’s photographic output is represented, and MOPA is the last stop — and the only West Coast venue — on a three-year national tour.

Penn even makes cigarette butts look compelling, but his portraits are seriously riveting, and the closer you look, the more his artistry and his subject’s essences are revealed. Organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., this is a show you could spend a long time admiring.

And when you’ve had your fill, there’s still more to see at MOPA. Stop in at the front gallery to check out “Reverberate: Sound + Image,” MOPA’s 13th annual juried youth exhibition, which features interesting pieces by students from both sides of the border. Perhaps one of them will someday become the next-generation Irving Penn.

IF YOU GO: “Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty,” runs through Feb. 17, 2019 and “Reverberate: Sound + Image” through Jan. 9, 2019 at Museum of Photographic Arts, 1649 El Prado in Balboa Park, San Diego. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pay what you wish admission. (619) 238-7559.