William Wegman “Hello Nature” Artipelag, Stockholm May 25 – September 29, 2013
Summer is here and so is the solo show with William Wegman entitled Hello Nature at Artipelag in Stockholm.The exhibition should be seen as a personal journey through Wegman’s work and a way to see currents of his inspiration. Here you not only meet the Weimaraners, photographs and films of his dogs, but you encounter his less known works in form of paintings, drawings, and collages where he creates a controlled wilderness from his childhood. Together they create a world of both depth and triviality.
William Wegman is best known for creating different photographic and filmic series with dogs, mostly of his own Weimaraners, in various poses and costumes. He was born in 1943 in Holyoke, Massachusetts and received his BFA in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston 1965, and later on a MFA in painting and graphic arts from the University of Illinois in 1967.
On and In the Landscape. 1988. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Beranger
His background in painting has a huge role in the exhibition at Artipelag and in some ways it creates the myth of Wegman. But it’s his photos and videos that have made him into a household name. They have appeared in books, advertisements, films, as well as on television programs like Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. Wegman's work has been featured in several retrospective shows, among others at Brooklyn Museum in 2006. The exhibition William Wegman: Funney/Strange explored his work in all media across the decades. It also ran at the Wexner Center of the Arts, in Ohio US, the following year.
In 2012 the exhibition Hello Nature was showed for the first time at Bowdoin College Museum of Art. It highlighted, much like Funney/Strange, 30 years of Wegman’s work in form of postcard paintings, canvases that have their origin in vintage postcards and physically merges multiple images into new pictures. Also featured in the show are compilations of collages, drawings, excerpts from the artist's illustrated nature books, and prose that evoked both nineteenth-century transcendentalist literature and the whimsical outdoor recreation guides that Wegman first encountered as a child. And of course: Wegman’s Weimaraners have a large part of the show, both in photographs and film. Hello Nature can be seen as an autobiographical approach to his work; he and his experiences are always present in all of the pieces in the exhibition. The show at Artipelag can either be seen as a version of the previous, or rather as a continuation. Now, I’m not really sure what the connection between these two shows is, but they share the same name, same themes, same claim to biography and the current show has even adopted the previous one’s catalogue. There is one difference and that is size. The Artipelag show is larger and has added on pieces. There is, for example, one painting/collage specifically made for Stockholm, which is made up by postcards. But, we are not only met by the pieces mentioned above. The show consists of different Wegman-wallpapers and murals. These contribute in creating the Wegman-world and in some ways also make you be a part of that world. The first wallpaper, which sort of looks like childlike green scribble-drawings of different events in nature, embellishes large wall. It’s quite beautiful in some ways, but camouflages the drawings that hang in a row on that wall and takes the focus away from them. There are several problems with this: for one, you can’t really see the drawings (which probably is the point). And secondly, the drawings themselves are absolutely too small for that size of a wall. This is something that is reoccurring in this exhibition; the pieces are hanged in a peculiar way. It feels like something’s wrong. I can’t even put my finger on it. Either it’s a way of exploring the themes, or it’s just poorly hanged. A positive aspect is the space. Artipelag’s rooms, with their large windows are made for this show. Nature is always present as it is seen through the windows like it’s staged specifically for this exhibition.
The Hardly Boys. 1995. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Beranger
The texts and the language of this exhibition try to convey depth in the works on display. There is a play on nature versus civilization, whatever that would mean. There is an emphasizing on the relationship between man and dog, man and animal, or maybe even man as an animal and so on; there is yet another highlight on the complex relationship between photography and painting, how to move between the two and if either one is dead and buried by now. I would also say that there is an aspect of Americana culture that is more rooted in the Midwest and the East Coast of the US, rather than the West: camping, canoeing, Grizzlies and rural fantasy for city/suburban children of the 40s, 50s and 60s, which is in a direct relationship to Wegman’s own life, but how do I connect with this?
It’s meant as a semi-rhetorical question and it’s not meant as specifically me as a person, but someone that is not from rural Massachusetts, but from urban Stockholm The biographical aspect takes over and for me, who didn’t grow up seeing Wegman’s dogs on Sesame Street, it’s hard to connect to the work. But there is something very alluring in the aesthetic of it, which is one more thing that I can’t put my finger on.
I want to like it, I even want to love it, but there’s something stopping me. Even though there are different themes that try to connect to something outside of William Wegman it doesn’t really reach its goal. Sweden fits aesthetically, but maybe not culturally, for me. There is also shallowness in both the themes and the media: postcards, landscape, dogs and so on. A friend of mine got it right, when she said: “this exhibition looks like my Instagram”.