William Wegman

After his studies, William Wegman soon developed a systematic interest in unconventional means within experimental artistic research works. Interested in the actions and reactions of sound, light, and a wide range of different materials such as mud, vegetal elements, strings and cords, radios, tennis rackets, and even gunpowder, the artist nurtured his curiosity regarding the potentials of photography and video. Fascinated by the possibility of recording the most unexpected, sudden, and ephemeral situations, he has used both media throughout his career.
From its early stages, Wegman’s oeuvre has been characterized by his essential descriptive tone, dry and rich in humor. Minimal actions carried out in a seemingly informal way create considerably surprising effects. As the artist recalls, almost out of necessity, he chose his dog—a Weimaraner named Man Ray—as his main protagonist. This choice rapidly became a project that evolved over the years and in which the dog has been elevated to the role of the artist’s alter ego. The many performances—initially quite basic, though gradually more complex and at times even with the participation of other dogs of the same breed—create a body of highly recognizable, conceptual works.
Through an immediate use of the audiovisual medium, Wegman created unexpected and often brilliant, ironic situations that, over time, have evolved to more extensive narrative forms. Since his first videos, shot in real time in front of a fixed video camera, Wegman’s work is structured as brief, anecdotal narration, often characterized by a surreal visual aesthetic.
His peculiar ability to focus on the character of Man Ray, electing him as the “protagonist,” instigates a reversal of roles, producing grotesque, ironic, even tender situations where the dog’s ability to react is key. In retrospect, most of Wegman’s videos can be interpreted as an authentic counterpoint to a number of investigations and actions developed during the same period within the fields of Conceptual and Body Art. [F.B.]

List of Works

Selected Works: Reel 1, 1970–1972
video, black and white, sound, 30 min. 38 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In this first compilation of short works, Wegman creates a series of ironic scenes with film material dealing with his own body, everyday objects and situations, and his dog Man Ray.
In a sequence shot frontally with a fixed camera, Wegman moves out of the frame while leaving a long streak of milk that drips from his mouth onto the floor and which Man Ray laps up enthusiastically, crossing the same space in the opposite direction. In another sequence, Wegman makes his naked chest and stomach “sing” and “talk,” almost miming facial expressions with the simple and somewhat daft ability to contract his navel and stomach muscles.

Selected Works: Reel 2, 1972
video, black and white, sound, 14 min. 19 sec.
Purchased with the collaboration of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Wegman plays with viewers’ expectations and the ability to manipulate the outcome of an action. Man Ray pushes a bottle across the floor trying to access its contents. The video ends when the bottle is broken. In another sequence, the artist and his dog seem to exchange a long and passionate kiss. The classic game of coin flipping follows: depending on whether the result is heads or tails, the artist physically turns Man Ray.

Selected Works: Reel 3, 1973
video, black and white, sound, 17 min. 54 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This collection concentrates on absurd aspects of the mise en scène. In one video, with his cheeks covered with shaving cream, Wegman tells a story about himself, stating that he was born without a mouth. In another work, Man Ray is given a close-up, alert and obedient with his head raised looking upwards, as if trying to understand what he is asked to do from an off-screen voice. In a further video, Man Ray rotates his head as if his movements were human.

Selected Works: Reel 4, 1973–1974
video, black and white, sound, 20 min. 57 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A series of monologues, which seem to recall commercial advertising, involves Man Ray once more. For example, the dog is happily sleeping on a bed until unexpectedly woken up by an alarm clock. Alternately, he is called to go in two different directions by two people, thus turning his head from left to right to left again. Also, seated on a table, Man Ray is subjected to pronunciation lessons by Wegman in a classical and predictable didactic fashion.

Selected Works: Reel 5, 1974–1975
video, black and white, sound, 26 min. 38 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In this selection, the focus is on long actions Man Ray’s presence brings to abrupt and unexpected finales. In an extreme close-up, the dog laps up the entire content of a glass of milk. In another scene, he maintains an elegant and dignified pose until a small ball surprisingly pops out of his mouth. In another one, he observes a lump of sugar on a table until he finally decides to eat it.

Selected Works: Reel 6, 1975
video, black and white, color, sound, 18 min. 35 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Logical incongruities between what is seen and what is unseen result in a number of comical actions. Moving their heads from right to left, in synchronization, Man Ray and another dog carefully follow something rigorously kept off-screen.

Selected Works: Reel 7, 1976–1977
video, color, sound, 17 min. 54 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The narrative forms developed in this series of videos are mainly concentrated on the unpredictable behavior of Man Ray. Wegman asks his dog to smoke or, seated with him on a couch, tries to get his attention with pathetic calls. Moreover, with extreme close-ups of his mouth, both talking and whistling, the artist impersonates two characters, while the dog performs almost like a professional actor.

Selected Works: Reel 8 (Revised), 1997–1998
video, color, sound, 25 min. 40 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Most of these short works focus on the world of entertainment and television, with Wegman playing the role of a magician, a set assistant, a writer, or a director. The various situations are alternated with footage of the artist’s appearance on the well-known David Letterman Show, along with portraits of Wegman seated on a large sofa in the company of his beloved Weimaraners.