William Wegman's Weimaraners Go to Bowdoin
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.
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.
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.
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.
[Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, 207-725-3275.]