About this artwork
At once amusing and enigmatically strange, William Wegman’s work employs a wide variety of media, including painting, photography, text, and video. Wegman was among the first generation of video artists, and over the course of his career he has made over 150 works in the medium. The selection presented here was shown alongside Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-Up, Nos. 1–4 in the Art Institute’s 1974 exhibition Idea and Image in Recent Art.
In the early 1970s, Wegman began filming his own experimental performances, creating pieces that were a combination of documentation, parody, and subtle criticism of art making and artists, including himself. Within these, he demonstrated his fascination with linguistics and semiotics through the use of palindromes, puns, and fragmentary dialogue. Wegman was not alone in this interest—in the early 1970s, prominent artists such as John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, and Ed Ruscha, among others, shared his focus on language.
Selected Works is composed of short videos whose durations range from sixteen seconds to just over four minutes. Reels two and three include playful demonstrations and sales pitches for fictional consumer goods that take the form of television advertisements and infomercials. In Massage Chair, for example, Wegman talks for more than a minute as he attempts to pass off an uncomfortable plastic chair as a revolutionary invention. Other works in the compilation involve the artist’s Weimeraner, Man Ray, his faithful companion and collaborator for over twelve years. While the works featuring Wegman alone are often humorous, Man Ray’s presence is instantly endearing. In The Kiss, Wegman lays on the floor with a bone in his mouth while Man Ray attempts to wrestle it away.
Wegman’s videos, much like his other works, are economical yet poignant. At first glance, they are undoubtedly engaging as portraits of the relationship between humans and animals. Less expected, however, are the ways in which his early-1970s critique of television culture still resonates today.
- Currently Off View
- Contemporary Art
- William Wegman
- Selected Works: Reel 2; Selected Works: Reel 3
- United States
- Single-channel video compilations: Reel 2: 19:42 min.; Reel 3: 21:41 min.
- Twentieth-Century Purchase Fund
- © 2015 William Wegman