Penn–Miyake: Visual Dialogue

A wordless dialogue between Japanese designer Issey Miyake and the great photographer Irving Penn is on show at 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo.

Issey Miyake and Irving Penn: Visual Dialogue is the title of the exhibition that opened September 16 in Tokyo at 21_21 Design Sight . The exhibition presents the silent dialogue between the Japanese designer Issey Miyake and the "giant of photography," Irving Penn, who died in 2009. In 1983, Penn immortalized the designer's clothes for the first time and Miyake fell in love, "Penn could look at my clothes, hear my voice and answer me through his creativity." And so began of their conversation which lasted for 13 years from 1987 to 1999. A dialogue between "heaven" (Irving Penn) and "earth" (Issey Miyake), as Midori Kitamura, current president of the Miyake Design Studio and creator of the show, tells us. "I think Penn is the sky in all of its complexity and grandeur. A sky that includes the rainbow, the twinkling stars and clouds carriers of fresh rain. Miyake is the earth. A solid fertile and living earth." According to Kitamura, the heart of this dialogue is summarized in two photos, Poppy (1968) and Flower Pleats (1990) (Issey Miyake Design).

Images are used to narrate the show as an initiation to the viewer who is about to begin this mystical journey.
Top and above: view of gallery 2. Photo Masaya Yoshimura.
Top and above: view of gallery 2. Photo Masaya Yoshimura.
Kitamura explains, "Through Penn's eyes, these flowers are transformed; Flower Pleats changes its clothes into an insect and combined together reflect the essence of their dialogue. The poppy blooms and is itself life and energy. The insect receives energy, flies through the air and pollinates, fertilizing new life, infinitely. A gushing flow of creativity that rotates, circulating, making room for new life and new forms." Eternal recurrence and recreation. Under the direction of the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, even the layout of the museum is reborn; on the walls and chairs are affixed paper and cardboard that evoke a real sense of naturalness and simplicity.
<i>Vegetable Face,</i> photo by Irving Penn, 1995. © The Irving Penn Foundation.
Vegetable Face, photo by Irving Penn, 1995. © The Irving Penn Foundation.
Enclosed within these eco-friendly walls we access the room with the video installation that—through a story conceived and directed by Kitamura, simple strokes of the drawings by Michael Crawford, and animation by Pascal Roulin—shows us the background for the creation of the Spring/Summer 1994 image. The specially commissioned video depicts Miyake, Penn, Ikko Tanaka and Midori Kitamura who, flying from one pole of the earth and the sky to the next, plays the role of "communicator." With this video, we learn of an implicit rule between the two great masters. Miyake was never there when Penn shot and Penn did not attend Miyake's fashion shows. The truth shouldn't erode the creative process in action.
A sky that includes the rainbow, the twinkling stars and clouds carriers of fresh rain. Miyake is the earth. A solid fertile and living earth.
View of the exhibition lobby.
View of the exhibition lobby.
Of the 250 images that tie the two artists together, 148 are projected in the next room where a 31-meter wall, used in its totality for the first time, creates an indescribably large white screen. And here we enter into the essence of their dialogue in which the designer's sophisticated research of materials and forms is further shaped Penn's hands, becoming something "other." The clothes change into birds, shadows, insects, Egyptian statues and Zen figures. Penn's characteristic rigorous minimalism and formal purism, his "paring down", is combined with Miyake's haute couture creating indelible and energetic images that rise to be crowned. They follow one another in continuous transformation and creation, stimulating the viewers' senses and involving them in a perceptual path free from any scheme, which leads to questioning the traditional sense of the gaze as a tool representing reality. There is no beginning or end, and the creative process that the two artists shared is eternal.
View of the exhibition lobby. Photo Masaya Yoshimura.
View of the exhibition lobby. Photo Masaya Yoshimura.
The show ends with 69 images from the 1987 Spring/Summer–1999 Fall/Winter campaign, which move beyond cognitive and representative schemes of photography and fashion. A show-dialogue and a show-flower. With its fertile pollen, it alludes to the circularity of life and creation. Personally, a time to rethink the seemingly unnecessary and glittering life in Tokyo, to rediscover the essential and creative energy. A dialogue without end.
Text by Aya Shigefuji with the collaboration of Oka Hiromoto
View of gallery 1. Photo Masaya Yoshimura.
View of gallery 1. Photo Masaya Yoshimura.
Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue 16 September 2011–8 April 2012 21_21 Design Sight
Left: Poster from the Spring/Summer Collection 1991. Right: Issey Miyake, Poster from the Spring/Summer Collection 1994. Photo Irving Penn. Poster design and typography Ikko Tanaka. Photo © The Irving Penn Foundation.
Left: Poster from the Spring/Summer Collection 1991. Right: Issey Miyake, Poster from the Spring/Summer Collection 1994. Photo Irving Penn. Poster design and typography Ikko Tanaka. Photo © The Irving Penn Foundation.
Original design created by Michael Crawford for the exhibition <i>Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue.</i> © 2010 Michael Crawford.
Original design created by Michael Crawford for the exhibition Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue. © 2010 Michael Crawford.
Issey Miyake, Staircase Dress, New York, 1994. Platinum/palladium print. Photo Irving Penn. © The Irving Penn Foundation
Issey Miyake, Staircase Dress, New York, 1994. Platinum/palladium print. Photo Irving Penn. © The Irving Penn Foundation

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