De­cem­ber 1988 I.M. Pei photographed by Ir­ving Penn

VOGUE (Italy) - - CULTURE -

Whi­le prin­ci­pal ly a fa­shion ma­ga­zi­ne, L’Uo­mo Vo­gue has ne­ver sim­ply been one. Its hi­sto­ry spans so­me of the mo­st chal­len­ging de­ca­des in fa­shion and ta­ste, art and cul­tu­re. But it mu­st be said that ma­ga­zi­nes of our kind tend to ce­le­bra­te the young and the re­stless, the fa­shio­na­ble and the up­co­ming, ra­ther than the esta­bli­shed and be­ni­gn.

How r efre­shing t hen t o f ind t his por­trait of I .M. Pei. The Pritz­ker Pri­ze-win­ning a rchi­tect was 71 when photographed by Ir­ving Penn, one of the ti­tans of Ame­ri­can pho­to­gra­phy. Penn was al­so 71, youn­ger by t wo mon­ths. This por­trait, t aken at the t ail end of the 1980s, when the speed of l ife was at its mo­st ex­ces­si­ve, stands a s a t ri­bu­te to per­ma­nen­ce.

A por­trait by Penn, near­ly for­ty-fi­ve years af­ter his fir­st for Vo­gue, was al­ways going to be a big deal. And this is eve­ry­thing a Penn por­trait would al­ways be: the true­st de­pic­tion. He­re, laid open for us, is the re­bel­liou­sness and the re­sti­ve­ness, the charm and the exu­be­ran­ce of I.M. Pei, the ‘Man­da­rin of Mo­der­ni­sm’.

At 101 Pei may yet de­si­gn his la­st bui lding. And who is to say it wi l l not be as con­tro­ver­sial as his glass-and- steel py­ra­mid for the Louvre, as ful l of mea­ning as it is of form and light? If his sky­scra­pers are im­pres­si­ve, the de­si­gns of his la­ter years are sub­tle and sym­pa­the­tic. The Mu­seum of Isla­mic Ar t, Do­ha, ope­ned in 2008, as­si­mi la­tes the ideals of We­stern mo­der­ni­sm with the hi­stor ical and cul­tu­ral im­pe­ra­ti­ves of a mo­dern Isla­mic sta­te.

When in 1964, the Pre­si­dent’s wi­dow asked Pei to de­si­gn the John F. Ken­ne­dy Li­bra­ry, he con­si­de­red it “the mo­st i mpor­tant com­mis­sion of my l ife”. Jac­kie Ken­ne­dy said it was “an emo­tio­nal de­ci­sion”, ad­ding, “I de­ci­ded it would be fun to ta­ke a great leap with him. He was so full of pro­mi­se, like Jack. They we­re born i n the sa­me year. 1917.”

And what a year that was for g ian­ts of Ame­ri­can l ife.

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