ARTnewsletter Archive

Penn Still Working at 91 and Market Continues to Thrive

Nearing 91, photographer Irving Penn continues to produce, and collectors continue to buy.

NEW YORK—Nearing 91, photographer Irving Penn continues to produce, and collectors continue to buy. The most recent exhibition of Penn’s work—ten black-and-white prints of cups, coffee pots and pitchers in edition sizes ranging from 4 to 14, all dated 2007—at the Pace/MacGill Gallery, Manhattan (Feb. 21-March 29), has been “doing great,” reports director Kimberly Jones. “We’ve sold at least one from every edition, generally more than one. And one image—Silvered Glass Cup—has sold out.”

Jones told ARTnewsletter that “the majority of buyers for works in the current exhibition were in the U.S., although a few came from Europe, where Penn’s presence is growing.”

Prices for Penn’s black-and-white prints in the Pace/MacGill show ranged from $50,000/100,000, up more than 10 percent from his exhibit of black-and-white photos shown at the gallery in 2005, Jones says. At that show and the current one, Pace/MacGill, which represents the artist in North America, displayed 22 photographs of flowers, most of them color prints produced digitally with a laser printer. Digital-print prices range from $15,000/100,000.

However, prices for the photographer’s works overall have exceeded $100,000, reaching $200,000/300,000 for certain images—and those that were produced in small editions have sold out, says David Fahey, co-owner of the Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, which has exhibited and sold Penn’s photographs since 1990. Fahey recalls that when he began selling Penn’s photographs, most of them were priced “under $10,000, even as low as $3,500.”

And San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery, also working with Pace/MacGill, displayed Penn’s “Underfoot” series of black-and-white images of flattened, throwaway “sidewalk objects” in 2005. Fraenkel director Frish Brandt notes that “Penn’s shows always do very well for us.”

The highest public-sale price for Penn’s work is the $406,455 given for the black-and-white Harlequin Dress, 1950, which nearly tripled Phillips, de Pury & Company’s high estimate of $138,558 at a London sale last year.

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