William Wegman is perhaps most well-known for the photographs he has made of his Weimaraner dogs, Man Ray and Fay Ray. These perfectly staged portraits are often absurd juxtapositions, unlikely scenarios or clever, wry commentaries on famous works of art. Through these works, Wegman comments on art, portraiture, the mores of convention and the pathos of the human condition. For Wegman afficionados, this most recent exhibition will provide surprises on at least two fronts. While Wegman has worked at length in the studio with his canine muses, this exhibition will be the first in San Francisco to include some of his best work done with the 20×24” Polaroid camera outdoors at the artist’s summer cabin in Maine. In these pictures Fay Ray is accompanied by her protege Battina, and by several others of her progeny who reside in Maine. The outdoor pictures provided entirely new conceptual and technical challenges for Wegman. His characters are seen at various times as hunters, as cyclists, and simply as animals with an unerring sense for formal perfection (Span, for example, in which one model is stretched like a suspension bridge between two rocks, with the Maine landscape as horizon) as well as formal irony (2 X’s in which another model sits cross-legged atop a cross-legged picnic table. While it is often the laughter and comedy which observers first sense, at the core of these pictures is a poignant sense for the human condition. Scratch the surface of these oft comic visions and one finds the work of a conceptualist addressing questions of perception and preconception.
The second surprise for viewers will be the vintage black and white photographs included in this exhibition. Rarely seen, these early works explore questions of perception and underscore the conceptual basis of all of Wegman’s work. Vignette (1971), for example, is specifically concerned with the idea of ‘taking a picture.’ In another, Shaking Hand (1972) Wegman has fabricated a picture of himself greeting himself with one hand outstretched to embrace the other, however there is only one hand to be seen. Pictures of this flavor require scrutiny of the calibre once afforded the likes of Highlights Magazine, coupled with the relentless wit of a punster/wordsmith.
This exhibition is concurrent with the exhibition William Wegman: Paintings and Drawings at John Berggruen Gallery, 228 Grant Avenue, San Francisco CA 94108.