Dry Jewish Humor Informs Irving Penn's Photos (on view at Art Institute of Chicago)

Iving Penn. 'Underfoot' exhibit view. Photo/Menachem Wecker
Iving Penn. 'Underfoot' exhibit view. Photo/Menachem Wecker

Irving Penn’s photographic series depicting gum caked to the pavement and discarded matches and cigarettes offers a unique perspective on urban life.

The 36 photos in the series “Underfoot” (1999–2001), which are on view at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of “Irving Penn: Underfoot,” portray larger-than-life litter. Matches resemble two-by-fours, and gum reads, at times, as faces, skulls or brains. Most of the “faces” are centered on the page, but some have more exciting compositions.

Some “portraits” appear to smirk; one seems to stick out its tongue; another winks. One could even double as a profile view of a pig, while others look like scarier versions of Krang from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Read more.

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    Menachem Wecker

    An art critic and painter, Menachem Wecker holds a master’s degree in art history from George Washington University and writes for "Houston Chronicle," as well as various religious publications. He is coauthor, with Brandon Withrow, of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, of the forthcoming book, "Consider No Evil: Two Faith Traditions and the Problem of Academic Freedom in Religious Higher Education" (Cascade Books), and is the former education reporter at "U.S. News and World Report."

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