The Photography Legends come back on the blog this week with William Wegman, a pioneering video artist, conceptualist, photographer, painter, and writer.
Most everyone recognizes Wegman’s dog portraits, but fewer remember that he is one of the artists who made conceptual art funny.
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About the Artist
William Wegman was born in 1943 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where he started to study painting at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. Wegman originally intended to pursue a career as a painter, and by the early 70s, Wegman's work was being exhibited in museums and galleries internationally.
In the fall of 1970, he moved to Southern California where he taught for one year at California State College, Long Beach, and it was while he was in Long Beach that Wegman got his first dog, a Weimaraner who he named Man Ray after the American visual artist. When he was taking pictures or experimenting with his camera, Wegman recalls, Man Ray would act very interested in what was happening. So, “very cautiously,” the artist began incorporating the dog into his work.
Man Ray, his beloved dog and first muse, became known in the art world and beyond for his endearing deadpan presence, becoming a central figure in Wegman’s photographs and videotapes. Wegman captured Man Ray doing mundane, humanlike things, like drinking a glass of milk or receiving a school report card, which gave a very humanized appearance to the dog.
Wegman has owned several dogs since, all Weimaraners, each of whom have patiently allowed him to dress them up in elaborate costumes and snap their pictures for the artist’s countless books or gallery shows.
William Wegman was a pioneering conceptual artist in the 1960s and ’70s, part of a movement founded on the belief that the idea behind a work of art is more important than its execution. The result of his unique man-and-dog collaborations, in the words of Guardian critic Jason Farago, were “artworks in which the rigors of conceptualism got wrecked on the shoals of canine indifference.”
Numerous retrospectives of Wegman’s work have toured Europe, Asia, and the United States. Most recently, a traveling exhibition inspired by William's last book is being organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography and will open at the “Rencontres d’Arles” this summer, the start of a four-year tour that will include stops in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe.
*Read on: Photography Legends: Irving Penn
William Wegman now lives between New York and Maine where he continues to paint, draw, make videos and take photographs with his dogs, Flo and Topper.
His work, which includes photography, video, painting, and drawing, is held in permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hammer Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
To see more of William's work:
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