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William Wegman's Weimaraners Go to Bowdoin

William Wegman’s Weimaraners Go to Bowdoin
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   On Friday, July 13, I am planning to attend a press preview of the William Wegman retrospective at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine.  Entitled William Wegman: Hello Nature, the exhibition is the first major show by Wegman, a Maine summer resident and one of the country’s most famous photographers. The exhibition features more than 100 photographs, paintings, drawings and videos from Wegman’s enigmatic art career.

   I am hoping William Wegman: Hello Nature will answer some nagging questions I have about Wegman’s work. I mean no criticism of Wegman when I say that I have never really understood why his photographs of his silvery gray Weimaraner dogs are taken so seriously by the art world. Dressing up and posing the handsome, sad sack pooches is all very droll and amusing, but humor is not generally valued in contemporary art.

CamoFleur

   Back in 2006 on the occasion of the 40-year retrospctive William Wegman: Funney/Strange at the Brooklyn Museum, New York Magazine art critic Mark Stevens asked the salient question – “What makes them more than doggy kitsch?” I confess that I don’t know, but that probably argues a deficiency in my art appreciation. Stevens seemed to conclude that while Wegman’s dog photographs are silly on the surface, the stuff of calendars, greeting cards, Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street, they are poignant at a deeper psychological level, the noble canines suffering indignities of which they are not even aware. Something very human and touching about being unaware of how foolish one is.

 

The Hardly Boys

Though I understand that Wegman loves wordplay, I don’t even really get why his 2006 retrospective misspelled the word “Funney.” My hunch is that Wegman’s whole illustrious career is kind of an art world inside joke. Because Wegman was a pioneering video and conceptual artist before he was a popular photographer of goofy dogs, he’s accorded the respect of the cognoscenti as well as the approval of the hoi polloi.

FoxHole

William Wegman:Hello Nature is both outgoing Bowdoin museum director Kevin Salatino’s follow-up to last summer’s blockbuster Edward Hopper show and his swan song as he prepares to return to Los Angeles from whence he came in 2009. Wegman has summered in the Rangeley Lake region for many years and the exhibition will focus on his Maine work in multiple mediums. Wegman’s Weimaraner photographs can also be seen 24-hours a day, 365 days a week as murals in the Maine Turnpike rest stops in Kennebunk and West Gardiner.

Oops, that's my dog Rudy.

[Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, 207-725-3275.]

Edgar Allen Beem

Author:

Edgar Allen Beem

Biography:

Take a look at art in New England with Edgar Allen Beem. He’s been art critic for the Portland Independent, art critic and feature writer for Maine Times, and now is a freelance writer for Yankee, Down East, Boston Globe Magazine, The Forecaster, and Photo District News. He’s the author of Maine Art Now (1990) and Maine: The Spirit of America (2000). In 1988, he won the Manufacturers Hanover Art/World Award for Distinguished Newspaper Art Criticism for his coverage of the 1987 auction sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. Ed says, “My credo as an arts writer has long been: ‘The work of art is the search for meaning.’ I believe art is not only a form of personal expression but also a form of inquiry, every bit as much a quest for truth as scientific research.” Ed Beem’s newest book, Backyard Maine: Local Essays, has just been published by Tilbury House, Publishers, of Gardiner, Maine. It’s not about the meaning of art; it’s about the meaning of family, community, and life in general. Edgar Beem is currently at work on a new book about contemporary art in Maine to be published in the fall of 2012.
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3 Responses to William Wegman’s Weimaraners Go to Bowdoin

  1. Joachim Homann July 15, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Let’s talk about a summer show with photos of Rudy. He’s a handsome fellow!–J.Homann, curator, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

  2. Duncan Gibson July 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    a good show –one that I need to revisit, and comes with a fun catalogue. The a/c in Kresge Auditorium for the talk wasn’t too swift — and the heat and humidity and the crowds for the opening reception on Sat. made for a tough time to see everything at length (and a 715p ferry to catch!). However enough was seen to whet the appetite for another visit this fall! With the upper level galleries closed, it was very odd to see Bowdoin’s museum relegated to the Wegman show, plus a small exhibit on the Androscoggin.

    Of course, Bowdoin’s Press Information *forgets* that the FIRST major exhibit of Wegman’s Maine works was at Colby College Museum of Art in summer 1995 — along with Pam Wegman’s (his sister) quilts and fabric works. And the Weimeraners were there, too!!

    • Ed Beem July 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      I must have missed the Colby show, too. But then 1995 was another century. Thanks for the reminder.

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