It’s a plane!
It’s a Weimaraner Vorstehhund?
A couple of weeks ago Jason Landry, Director of Panopticon Gallery and I traveled from Boston to New York to meet with the talented artist William Wegman and his brilliant wife, Christine Burgin. We were proposing and idea for an upcoming exhibition titled “Inside/Outside” which would hopefully give insight into Wegman’s consistent inventiveness. As the dogs patiently rested their heads on Jason’s lap, we talked and snacked over an improvised lunch of grilled cheese and cookies after-which, we were invited down to the studio where Bill was photographing, surprise, surprise, some dogs. Bill was shooting (with a camera) three Bulldogs for a local hockey rink (don’t ask). Because they were to be later photo-shopped as bugs in trees, (again, don’t ask) it was important that no means of support be visible, and therefore the Bullies had to be photographed in freefall (a very short distance, of course) onto mattresses and cushions piled on the studio floor. That was the theory, anyways. The maestro was improvising, once again. Even the temporary landing pad was comprised of samples of dog beds covered in Wegman fabric (noble Weimaraner profiles, etc.) Perfect for the task at foot. It’s hard to know how the Bulldogs felt about becoming experimental paratroopers. Like the famous fashion model “Zoolander” they seem to have only one “look”. Perpetually perturbed. Like when photographer, Yousef Karsh pulled the cigar out of Winston Churchill’s mouth.
Bulldogs were originally bred exclusively by South American drug-lords to test product before market. So, it’s not their fault that they are all born with deviated septums and can be a bit opinionated. When Bill was done with the panting Bulldogs, he turned to his assistant Jason Burch (too many Jason’s), and with a twinkle said; “I want to throw more dogs.” His eager models stampeded downstairs to the studio. Candy, Bobbin, and Penny had been quarantined upstairs for the entire session. Not because of issues of aggression, but because of issues of jealousy. “Bulldogs indeed!”
What commenced was a ballet so beautiful that it stopped time. Once suspended from the planet’s pull, in a kind of high-wire act, the fearless models ceased to be dogs. I don’t know exactly what they were. Part bat, part Twyla Tharp, and part trapeze performer, Bill had once again transformed his moldable Weimaraners into immortal fictions. They even look a bit like clay.
What was truly remarkable was the amount of trust and devotion evident in the studio. After each “drop”, the dogs, wagging their tails eagerly, jumped back into Bill’s arms. I swear they were smiling. When the activity ceased to be fun for everyone, Bill consulted with Candy and Bobbin and stopped the shoot. An understanding, about standing, had been reached. Even though Bobbin begged to be involved, Bill refused to “drop” him. He was the oldest of the three dogs and Bill said he had a sore hip. Ironically Bill had a scheduled appointment, for later that day, specifically to get a cortisone shot, into his own aggravated spine. I’m “no-doctor” but I suspect it may have something to do with picking-up Weimaraners for four decades. When I asked Bill about this, his response was, “Nah, just part of getting old.”
Some of the photos were magnificent. The ones that excelled seemed to freeze the dogs in graceful pose on their return trip to earth. Questions like why they had left in the first place became mutt, I mean moot. Gravity was negotiated and each photo doggedly pursued the very architecture of Weimaranerness. Yes, I know there’s no-such word. Houston, we have achieved beauty.
I recently saw a television program about a behavioral study simply called “Point”. Researchers hid treats in containers and then in front of their subjects (dogs), pointed to the concealed treasures. OK, really, really simple. The dogs interpreted correctly, the “not-so-subtle clues”, each and every time. The test was then performed with chimpanzees. (Which remember are our closest cousins, sharing 98% of our genes, if they can even fit into them.) The chimps were also remarkably consistent, failing 100% of the time. Our cousins would slap their heads, scream and run around, but to no avail. The chimps could never even select, never mind select correctly. It was as if the very act of collaboration drove them insane. Which reminded me of my actual cousins from Sudbury, which has nothing to do with anything. The researchers then brought wolves into the mix. They also failed to find the treats. We have domesticated dogs for an estimated 15,000 years. They depend on us and we depend on them. Even though they don’t have hooves, it behooves them to anticipate our needs. Dogs have a job to do and Weimaraners are working dogs, eager to comply. Sometimes I think being a working artist is a schizophrenic proposition. It is almost like there are two distinctly different, internal masters to placate. There is: the stern researcher decked-out in a freshly ironed lab-coat, with clipboard and then there is the mud covered child playing on the dirty floor. Both have to find a way to co-exist. A seemingly impossible task. The fastidious researcher is charged with taking notes while observing the child:
“Yes, we’ll keep that”
“Oh-no, we mustn’t do that”.
Sometimes the clinician, like a strict parent, retains the upper hand. Sometimes control is wielded by the ‘infant-terrible”. What I find so remarkable about William Wegman’s work is how it successfully navigates these extremes, with a kind of playful intelligence. Bill also has a job to do and he continues to do it extraordinarily well. I have been a huge fan of Bill’s work for years. Regardless of the medium (Sculpture, painting, drawing, video or photography), it is always a wonderful amalgamation of influences.
A delightful crossbreed of sorts:
½ Performance Art,
½ Conceptual Art,
½ Photography, (or what-ever medium).
Remarkably, this always seems to add-up. Guided by a genuine love and respect for not only the dogs but for improvisation, Bill, continues to make beautiful work full of humor and inventiveness. Maybe in the end, it doesn’t matter that he cares so much for his muses. Maybe it matters greatly. Maybe it’s vital that the researcher love the child, the child love the parent, the parent love the writer, and the writer love the craft. Maybe, somewhere in this “love-fest” is where the rubber meets the road or where the Weimaraner meets the good earth. I’m sorry if this comes-off, a bit dizzy and melodramatic, but great art always gives me paws.
It suspends me.
It moves me.
Makes me fall in love and fly through the air with the greatest of ease.
former Director of Exhibitions at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design
William Wegman: Inside/Outside
Co-curated by Jeffrey Keough
July 8 – September 7, 2010
Reception with the Artist
Thursday, July 8, 2010
5:30 – 7:30pm
Inside Hotel Commonwealth