Irving Penn, Optical Goods, New York, about 1942 © The Irving Penn Foundation
Irving Penn, Optical Goods, New York, about 1942 © The Irving Penn Foundation 

Penn / Warhol: Signs

02/11/2017 - 05/01/2018

13 Carlos Place 
W1K 2EU London   

Ever since antiquity, signs have served as messengers for the promotion of a business’s wares or services. These physical traces of human activity have become imbued with a range of cultural connotations and associations throughout the course of civilisation’s evolution. Whether drawn on the storefronts of Pompeii, carved out of wood and hung over shop entrances in Edo Japan, painted on panels and displayed in windows in Europe or America, or created and displayed in myriad other ways, these manifestations of commerce are a touchstone of quotidian activity.

In some of his earliest forays with a camera, Irving Penn took careful notice of these signs. He saw personal expressions of a merchant’s hope for more business, a preacher’s wish for a congregation, some way to catch the eyes of passers-by. The variety and combination of words and symbols, expressed typographically or manually, could have appealed to the young Penn as a form of commercial ‘portraiture’, each a reflection of its owner-creator. Penn’s photographs of signs in this exhibition, captured in the late 1930s and early 1940s in New York and the American South, show his early interest in stepping outside the studio, something Penn would explore further later in his career.

As a commercial graphic artist at the beginning of his career, Andy Warhol was charged with creating imagery that would convey the desirability of the products on offer to the consumer audience. He took these early experiences to heart, and his innovative appropriation of the language of advertising became a hallmark of his post-modern inventions. His stitched photographs and silkscreens present viewers with a new way of interrogating this aspect of commercial activity.

Presented together for the first time ever, Hamiltons’ exhibits Irving Penn’s and Andy Warhol’s perspectives on this cultural phenomenon side by side.