William Wegman

5 Sep — 28 Oct 2017 at Sperone Westwater Gallery in New York, United States

12 SEPTEMBER 2017
William Wegman. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater
William Wegman. Courtesy of Sperone Westwater

Sperone Westwater is pleased to announce William Wegman Dressed and Undressed, a show of 20 x 24 Polaroids spanning over 30 years of work and exhibited for the first time in the artist’s sixth solo exhibition at the gallery.

Installed on two floors of the gallery, this exhibition focuses on Wegman’s use of the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera to explore the nature of transformation and illusion, and with the help of his Weimaraner muses, to upend expectations of what it means to be human.

A unique and instantaneous record of a moment, it is impossible to edit or change a Polaroid. What you see is what you get and this immediately appealed to Wegman, whose work in the 1970s often explored and exposed the photographic methods and conventions which normally remain hidden. Wegman first worked with the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera in 1979. Up until that time he had worked only in black and white, but the jewel-like tones possible with Polaroid film led him to make his first of many color pictures, a black-coated Man Ray against a black background wearing bright red Revlon nail polish. Wegman continued to work with the Polaroid camera, collaborating with his dog Fay Ray and her family, a growing cast of characters each with their own particular personality and talents. With this cast came larger productions and Wegman began to turn the dogs into the many characters that these stories required. However, making the dogs tall and giving them hands was only part of what these images were about; transformation and creating the greatest illusion with the least intervention became an ongoing and central theme. With the slightest gesture or prop, a dog might become a classical torso, a cubist portrait, an abstraction or a picture of someone you know. As Wegman writes in his upcoming book Being Human: “A dog does not need to be dressed up to appear to have human qualities. I made little to no effort to anthropomorphize Man Ray and yet he is clearly my counterpart in the work. I think that is how we are wired, to see ourselves.”

The Polaroids in this exhibition have never been exhibited before, and were only recently rediscovered in the process of creating a digital archive of this body of work. From 1979 to 2007 – when Polaroid stopped producing 20 x 24 film – Wegman created hundreds of images. With the exception of those that were exhibited at the time, these Polaroids were stored away in archival boxes and largely forgotten. In Being Human, Wegman writes about this process of rediscovery: “Looking through the boxes backwards from 2007 was an exhilarating experience for me. I could see all my beloved dogs, from Candy and Bobbin to Barry and Fay, grow younger and younger and younger; the images went back to a time before they existed, back to Man Ray, where it all began.”

Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1943, William Wegman received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston and an MFA in painting from the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana in 1967. From 1968 to 1970 he taught at the University of Wisconsin. In the fall of 1970 he moved to Southern California where he taught for one year at California State College, Long Beach. In 1971 he moved to Santa Monica. By the early 70s, Wegman’s work was being exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. In addition to solo shows with Sonnabend Gallery in Paris and New York,Situation Gallery in London and Konrad Fisher Gallery in Dusseldorf, his work was included in such seminal exhibitions as “When Attitudes Become Form,” and “Documenta V” and regularly featured in Interfunktionen, Artforum and Avalanche magazines.

Numerous retrospectives of Wegman’s work have toured Europe, Asia and the United States including: “Wegman’s World,” at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis in 1981; “William Wegman: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, Videotapes,” which opened at the Kunstmuseum, Lucerne in 1990 and traveled to venues across Europe and the United States including the Centre Pompidou, Paris and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; “Funney/Strange” which opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2006 and made its final stop at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus in the fall of 2007 and “Hello Nature” which opened at the Bowdoin Museum of Art in 2012 and travelled to Artipelag in Stockholm, Sweden. Recent museum exhibitions have included touring retrospectives in Japan, Korea and Spain and numerous gallery exhibitions including in 2016 “William Wegman: New and Used Furniture” at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles. Wegman had a solo show at 121 Greene Street, an alternative space in Soho, in 1990, and solo exhibitions at Sperone Westwater in 1992, 2003, 2006, 2012, and 2016. William Wegman lives in New York and Maine.