William Wegman is known to all and sundry as the artist who photographed his dog Man Ray and subsequent series of patient Weimareiners. But a new exhibition at Marc Selwyn Fine Art through July 6 gives us a portrait of the artist as a young man.
In 1971, Wegman was teaching at Cal State Long Beach and rented a studio at 2001 1/2 Main Street, Santa Monica. He began to stage black and white photographs of himself and others that he combined with elementary typewritten texts. This was formative work, informed by Conceptual art and in keeping with similar concerns displayed by other LA-based artists at the time like Allen Ruppersberg and John Baldessari.
But Wegman moved to New York in 1973 and Baldessari took over the studio, where he remains to this day. He called Wegman to say that he had left a box of his stuff behind but Wegman never got around to picking it up. Finally, almost 20 years later, Baldessari sent it to him. Another 20 years passed and in preparation for Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, Wegman finally went through the box and discovered all of his very early work. The discovery was even more exciting for the fact that in 1978, a fire in his New York studio had destroyed the rest of his early photographs and negatives.
The deadpan, double-take that has become something of a Wegman signature is seen here in its infancy. There is an earnestness and daring that transcends humor. The classic is a pair of a black and white photographs. In the first, Wegman has photographed himself taking a photograph in a white studio with a cracked floor. The typed caption states, "He took two pictures." The next photograph features Wegman again in the same pose but now a long-haired young woman in jeans and t-shirt is lying on the floor as a model. The caption states, "One came out." You pause, wondering, which one? There is a before and after but no sense of priority. That pause is quintessential early Wegman, as you'll see in virtually every photograph in this fascinating exhibition. In addition, there are a number of disjointed, funny texts typed on stationery from the Princess Cruise lines which are included in the modest but valuable catalogue. For more information, go to marcselwynfineart.com.
Banner image: Detail of William Wegman's Adjustable Pillow, 1974/2011. All images courtesy of the artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles