Art review: “William Wegman: Outside In”, Shelburne Museum | Art review | Seven days

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  • Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater
  • “Collected Rooms”

Visitors who think they will see dogs at “Guillaume Wegman: Outside In “at Shelburne Museum are in for a surprise. Pleasant, most likely.

Certainly, many of the artist’s famous Weimaraners appear in the exhibit in various forms, captured in 20-by-24-inch color Polaroid prints. According to Wegman, dogs are diligent, hardworking role models who patiently tolerate all manner of indignities. Consider the dog completely draped in what appears to be a floral shower curtain (“Rain Coat”, 2004), or the one in a pile of knotted ropes (“Tangled”, 1998), or – in perhaps the biggest demonstration tolerance – the one with various doodads at the top of the head and hanging from the muzzle (“Daisy Nut Ball”, 1994).

The point is that Wegman, now 75, trained first as a painter at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, then at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Shortly after receiving her MFA, the painting was inadvertently declared dead.

Wegman moved to Los Angeles and in the 1970s took up video, becoming a key figure in West Coast conceptualism. He resumed painting in the 1980s and still practices it today. The Shelburne Museum exhibit features a number of pieces from the artist’s personal collection, most of them relatively recent.

While continuing to paint, Wegman also became interested in Weimaraners and photography. After four decades of laying her puppies; produce books, calendars and other ephemeral documents; and appearing on television, it’s no wonder he has a reputation for being “the canine artist”.

Fortunately, he doesn’t mind. As Wegman told Shelburne Museum assistant curator Carolyn Bauer in a taped interview: “I’m grateful for all the audience I have… I’ve certainly never been asked to be on a talk show. to discuss my paintings, but with the dogs and also with my video work, that’s what happened. ”

The show’s title, “Outside In,” doesn’t refer to bringing Weimaraners into the studio – although it perhaps could – but to Wegman’s long-standing relationship with the natural world. . Born in rural Massachusetts, he maintained a home in Maine for decades. Despite his years in Los Angeles and New York, Wegman is a New England son, influenced both by a hunting, fishing and camping lifestyle and by the region’s transcendent heritage.

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  • Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater
  • “Marguerite Ball of Nuts”

This influence is manifested in his work with a characteristic ironic humor. In the photograph “Camp Set” (1997), two Weimaraners and a human with an inserted dog’s head are all dressed in plaid and posed in a wooded campsite. This could be an advertisement for LLBean – which is why the “camp” in the title is definitely a double meaning.

Wegman’s Field guide for North America and other regions (1993) is an oversized, limited edition artist’s book whose large pages borrow from Boy Scout instruction manuals while featuring a photograph of a nearly naked woman ready to run in the forest. Its table of contents is not made up of text but of watercolor pictograms; the book’s container is a birch wood box.

The paintings that might surprise viewers of this exhibition the most are 21st century renderings that incorporate cubism, abstraction and, most importantly, “readymades” in the form of modern postcard collages. Of these, two works use paint to develop scenes from replicas of old postcards from the collection of the Shelburne Museum. Wegman augments “Spiral Stair” with large flourishes and flourishes in a range of green hues. “Collected Rooms” constructs Cubist plans and angles around postcard photos taken in the Electra Havemeyer Webb memorial and the museum’s Prentis house.

By far the largest work in the exhibition is a three-panel painting titled, somewhat ironically, “The Great Indoors.” Dominating the back wall of the gallery, the 2013 work depicts an enormous imaginary room whose rectilinear planes plunge to a point of virtual disappearance; it is an extreme and architectural exercise in perspective. But the brightly colored room also incorporates “windows” – that is to say, six glued postcards – which offer views of other worlds: a moose in a northern wilderness, a blue pond, a cluster. of rocks in a desert. A single affixed postcard, of an orange accent chair, seems to suggest a more mundane function.

Wegman also reiterates the concept of “panoramic window” in other, smaller works.

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  • Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater
  • “Raincoat”

The artist’s earlier paintings and his non-canine photographs help to better understand his creative arc. But it must be said that in the end, Wegman’s Weimaraner photographs steal the show, although those that stand out are not necessarily the fanciful costumed or camouflaged canines.

In his interview with Bauer, Wegman said: “This idea has been central to my work for some time now, that things are one thing and then they become something else.” Nowhere is this more evident than in his photographs of dogs that do not look like dogs. The remarkable “Lake Shore” triptych (1999), which greets visitors as they enter the gallery, seems to represent a set of round hills against a misty blue and green background. In fact, the “hills” are the bodies of dogs in a curled up sleeping position. A spectator must approach to recognize the shine of the fur. The tight composition of “Lake and Valley” (2000) turns the sloping backs of four dogs into steep mountain sides.

Whether Wegman anthropomorphizes his Weimaraners or presents them as something “other”, he has cultivated a living, breathing subject as reliable as, well, man’s best friend. “I think as long as I have dogs, I will keep coming up with new ideas,” he wrote for the text of the show. “I don’t think I’ll ever be bored with this, and I certainly don’t bore them.”