William Wegman: Improved Photographs Opening May 12th at Telfair Museums

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

William Wegman (American, b. 1943) is an internationally-renowned and influential American artist with a prolific career spanning more than five decades. He is best known for his heartwarming and amusing photographs of his beloved Weimaraners, an ever-growing canine cast beginning with his first dog and 12-year collaborator, Man Ray, in 1970. Wegman lived and worked in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, was a key figure in what came to be known as West Coast Conceptual Art, and became a pioneer in the developing medium of video art. William Wegman: Improved Photographs, opening May 12 at the Jepson Center, includes a selection of the artist's early conceptual videos in black and white, focusing on projects when he began working with Man Ray in California.
Held in critical esteem within the international art world and widely beloved by the  public, Wegman fascinates both audiences for the same reasons: his smart, gently subversive humor undermines the familiar to reveal life’s essential peculiarity.  The Jepson Center’s presentation highlights the artist’s wit as well as the importance of mark-making, and the evidence of the artist’s hand that is central to Wegman’s practice across all of his artistic output. Included are drawings, paintings, altered photographs, and large format Polaroids spanning the 1970s to the present day, reinforcing the connections between all of his artwork in order to highlight a central tenet of his artmaking: the ever-present artistic impulse to work and rework—thereby “improving”—imagery with a uniquely playful lens while also humorously critiquing the medium itself.

“The genius of William Wegman’s work is his giving power to the banal. By employing smart observational humor and wit onto the casualness of everyday found objects, his work reaches people from all walks of life. His first dog, Man Ray, essentially became a found object to work with just as anything else in his studio. As a conceptual artist, he works fluidly between all media so seamlessly—video, photography, drawing, painting—that this presentation will no doubt increase your understanding of this important American image maker,” said Rachel Reese, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums.

William Wegman was born December 2, 1943 in Holyoke, Massachusetts and currently lives in New York and Maine. He holds a BFA in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston (1965) and an MFA from the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana (1967). Wegman's photographs, videotapes, paintings, and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. Recent exhibitions have included touring retrospectives of Wegman’s work in Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, and Korea and the United States.

Wegman’s collaboration with his Weimaraners includes several decades of work with the 20 x 24 Polaroid camera; video and films for Saturday Night Live, Nickelodeon, and Sesame Street; a feature length film, The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold and commissions ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to the New Yorker. Wegman has appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and with Jay Leno, The Colbert Report and the David Letterman Show. Wegman is the author of numerous books for adults, over a dozen books for children and, most recently, William Wegman: Paintings (spring 2016/Abrams).  A new book surveying almost fifty years of Wegman’s work will be published by Thames and Hudson in 2017.
Related Programming
William Wegman
Members-Only Opening Artist Lecture and Reception                              May 11, 6pm
A special, members-only evening with a major figure in American art. William Wegman will lecture on his prolific artistic career that has spanned more than five decades. The lecture is sponsored by the Telfair Academy Guild.
Free Family Day                                                                                   August 5, 1-4pm
Film                                                                                                    March 31 – May 21, 2017
William Wegman
The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold, 1995

Beautifully shot in 35mm film and transferred to digital file, The Hardly Boys In Hardly Gold is a high-comedy action adventure written and directed by William Wegman, starring his well-known Weimaraners: Fay Ray, Battina, Crooky, and Chundo. The Hardly family spends its summers at the Hardly Inn in Maine, where the Hardly Boys play tennis, croquet, and badminton, and hunt butterflies. Following in their mother’s footsteps, the Boys have also become avid amateur detectives. To honor the Hardly Boys timely detective work last summer, Chip’s Aunt Gladiola invites them to lunch, but after a canoe trip across the lake to Aunt Gladiola’s, the Boys find themselves in the midst of a mysterious and evil plot masterminded by the Nurse and the Caretaker.
William Wegman: Improved Photographs will be on view May 12-August 13, 2017 and is organized by Rachel Reese, Telfair Museums’ Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and sponsored by the City of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs. This exhibition is provided courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.