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William Wegman

William Wegman, alias ‘the man with the dog’, is an American artist living in New York. He has received enthusiastic attention not only for video art but also for photography, painting and drawing. In the field of video art, Wegman’s short videos from the seventies are unique. Using narrative and visual jokes, he consistently challenges the viewer to look differently at the world and at art.

At IMPAKT, there was a retrospective divided into three programs. The first program supplemented with material from artists from the same period is focused on the performance element of Wegman’s videos. The second program has the relationship between Wegman and the art world as its central theme. Besides the work of Wegman himself, two videos of Allen Cohen are to be seen. Last, but not least, is a program composed with special attention for his most beloved protagonists: the dogs Man Ray and Fay Ray.

Block 1: The Performance

Bouncing The Corner No. 1, Bruce Nauman (1968, 10 min.)
Nauman leans on a wall in his studio. He ‘bounces’ to an upright position and falls back again, over and over again. A game with space and gravity until the tape ends.

Spit Sandwich, William Wegman (1970, 17 min.) 
An introduction to William Wegman’s work through these early anecdotes. This selection contains hilarious short, single-take stories built up of Wegman’s monologues and the use of every day object as protagonists.

Theme Song (excerpt), Vito Acconci (1973, 10 min.)
Acconci talks to the viewer from a comfortable lying position. He comments on a song by ‘The Doors’. It is an attempt to create an intimate relationship with a viewer he does not know.

Reel 3, William Wegman (1972-1973, 18 min.) 
In this compilation of fifteen shorts, we see Wegman parodying sales demonstrations and performing absurd monologues, sometimes sitting in a chair, other times using props. We also see some beautiful practical jokes at the expense of Man Ray.

Accident, William Wegman (1979, 4 min.)
Three people give separate accounts of a terrible car accident they all know of. One of them actually witnessed the accident, the others did not. It is impossible to tell who is speaking the truth. Wegman shows us how difficult it is to capture the truth through language.

 

Block 2: The Art

Man Ray, Man Ray, William Wegman (1978, 5 min.)
The dog Man Ray is projected into the story about the photographer Man Ray, told by Russel Conner. Man Ray’s behaviour creates a comic tension with the biographical details.

How to Draw, William Wegman and Mark Magill (1983, 6 min.) 
Magill plays the eager student who receives a drawing lesson from Wegman. Wegman shows in a cheap ‘how-to-draw’ style the best way to become a good artist, thus parodying the notion that one can become a good artist in this fashion.

The World of Photography, William Wegman and Michael Smith (1986, 25 min.)
As in ‘how to draw’, Wegman plays a specialist, this time in photography. In ten lessons we are told what knowledge is important if you want to become a photographer. He helps Michael Smith to find out if he has the aptitude to become a photographer. A subtle satire on the world of photography.

Faybridge, Allen Cohen (1992, 9 min.)
Allen Cohen recorded Wegman’s assimilation of Muybridge’s methodology in the study of movement. Instead of horses, Wegman uses his dogs to learn more about the secrets of motion.

Rootless, Allen Cohen (1992, 9 min.)
A short documentary that shows Wegman’s preoccupation with form. We see Wegman working with his dogs in a burnt-out studio.

 

Block 3: The Dogs 

Reel 4, William Wegman (1973-1974, 20 min.)
This compilation tape includes seven shorts that feature Man Ray. Wegman challenges Man Ray by putting him in unusual situations. Man Ray’s Reactions beautifully fit the dialogue.

Reel 6, William Wegman (1975, 19 min.)
Two-thirds of this reel are prime-time fun with Man Ray as your host. Astonishing and always completely himself, he triumphs in every situation his lovely boss puts him in.

Reel 7, William Wegman (1976-1977, 18 min.) 
Man Ray knows that smoking is bad for your health and will not be seduced by his master into taking a puff. In other takes, Wegman tries to get the sympathy of his dog and enthuse him to participate in a joke. Man Ray, unfortunately, does not get it. The rest of the tape consists of Wegman’s characteristic conceptual humour featuring (parts of) himself.

Sesame Street, William Wegman (1989, 5 min.)
William Wegman also makes didactic videos for the American Sesame Street in which his dogs may subtract and add up.

 


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