Hot dog! William Wegman: Being Human, reviewed
“The dog really must love him, it’s so incredibly patient…”, a woman says to her daughter, punctuating a screening of Coin toss (1972). In a collection of short single-take videos, American artist William Wegman participates in absurdist performances with his best friend, a Weimaraner dog. The dog is aptly named Man Ray, after the 20th century dada and surrealist artist. This darkened video space, at the tail end of William Wegman: Being Human, provides a playful insight into Wegman’s career and the unique relationship he has with his subject matter, the Weimaraner dog – as model, companion, soul mate and muse. His early videos also provide an important backstory to this touring survey. We can see on screen that from the outset Wegman sought set-ups with just one or two props, a studio and a camera. His photographs and videos employ visual and verbal gags that speak directly to his audiences.
In the 1970s and 80s, Wegman quickly made a name for himself through his canine works, particularly the photographic portraits, which appeared in magazines and galleries. But Wegman and his dogs also became public figures, appearing in segments on Sesame Street and The David Letterman Show. Wegman was also invited to create the influential music video ‘Blue Monday ’88’ for New Order (a collaborative piece he made with acclaimed experimental filmmaker Robert Breer). While Wegman’s creative output has clear allegiances to conceptual and performance art, he has always tested the margins between popular culture and the art world. But this survey – the first and only New Zealand exhibition of Wegman’s work – is really a study of a basic human trait: humour.