The McCann Time Capsule: Irving Penn and Art as Advertising
The Metropolitan Museum of Art this week opened an exhibition that carries one of those rare examples of fine art specifically created for advertising. A retrospective of the work of the influential photographer Irving Penn in celebration of the centennial of his birth, the exhibition includes “Mouth,” a stunning photo in a series done for L’Oréal in 1986. McCann New York used another shot in that series for a Crème Riche lipstick ad.
The famous photo shows a model’s lips smeared with lipstick as if it were paint. Given Penn’s revolutionary influence on photography, the ad itself carries the headline, “Comes The Revolution In Lips.”
An article on Smithsonian.com when the “Mouth” photo was shown earlier in 2015 at an exhibition in Washington, D.C., explains the significance of this work within Penn’s catalogue. Headlined “How Irving Penn Turned Fashion Photography Into a Fine Art: A new show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum looks back at a photo giant who blurred the lines,” the Smithsonian magazine article says:
“Sexy lips are an advertising cliché—one that Irving Penn cheerfully upended in this 1986 photo, Mouth (for L’Oréal). Smeared with more than a half-dozen shades of lipstick, in the manner of a painter’s palette, the model’s pout seems to mock the facade of perfect beauty. Like any good ad, the image seizes the viewer’s attention, but it’s more than just eye candy, says Merry Foresta, curator of a Penn retrospective—the first in 20 years—opening this month at the Smithsonian American Art Museum: “Though made to sell a product, it crosses the divide between commerce and art with astounding ease. The artist, who died in 2009 at age 92, produced still lifes of cigarette butts and skulls as well as portraits of couture-clad models, but his defining talent for elevating fashion photography into the lordly realm of fine art is what keeps his work perpetually in style.’”