Pop art and new works: Wegman exhibit at Shelburne Museum

Handstanding
Photo Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater
William Wegman, Handstanding, 2011. Pigment print, 22 x 17 in

MORGAN STURDEVANT
Community News Service 

Visitors to Shelburne Museum have just over a week to check out the William Wegman exhibition curated especially for Vermont by the prolific photographer and artist. 

On view through Oct. 20, “William Wegman: Outside In” features 60 works that combine  a variety of media along with Wegman’s trademark sense of humor.

The museum’s assistant curator Carolyn Bauers helped create the exhibit.

“I reached out to his studio based in Chelsea, and his wife was recently at Shelburne Museum and knew it would be perfect to have his work here,” Bauers said.

Bauers said she loves Wegman’s unique style.

“It’s like art history put into a blender,” she said. “A bit surrealist, a bit cubist and a dash of humor.” 

Bauers described Wegman’s work as “biblical within art history” and well-known thanks to the popular success of his dog photographs.

“He’s known as the dog guy, a title he wears humbly, but he’s a lot more than that,” Bauers said. 

The artist began his work with painting but found enormous success with the eccentric and witty photographs of his Weimaraner dogs. More recently, he has turned back toward painting. This exhibit aims to chronicle all stages of Wegman’s career, from drawings and paintings to Polaroids of his now-famous dogs. 

One section features postcards plastered to canvas, with Wegman decorating the background to expand the postcard picture into an entire painting. 

Bauers said the exhibition was more than two years in the making after she had seen some of his work on exhibit in Maine.

“Wegman has a New England connection. He is from western Massachusetts, so he sees himself as a New Englander,” she said. 

Wegman visited as the exhibit was assembled, helping choose the pieces, Bauers said.

“It’s like unwrapping a new present,” she said, pointing out that Wegman has never done an exhibition in Vermont before. 

In addition to the photos, the exhibit features portfolio pages from his book, “Field Guide to North America and to Other Regions.” Two of the postcard paintings are new, having been inspired by archival postcards of Shelburne Museum.

Since it opened this summer, the public response to the show has been positive, Bauers said, and has not focused on Wegman’s best-known Weimaraner photographs.

“People say ‘I love the Polaroids, I love the dogs, but I really love these paintings,’” she said.

On a recent visit, University of Vermont junior and history major Jack Humiston said he was pleasantly surprised by the exhibit.

“I came to see the Ticonderoga ship, but I walked through the exhibits too and loved this one,” he said. “I never heard of [Wegman] before, but I thought his work was so creative and extravagant. It’s crazy that someone could possibly come up with this stuff.”

The extravagance is clear. A photograph on the wall shows various postcards on a perspective-fueled canvas, with objects getting smaller the farther they are from the viewer. 

Museum Security Officer Bob Gikmis said he likes to watch the reactions people have when they visit.

“I sit here many hours and everybody that comes here seems to leave with a smile on their face,” he said. “I think it’s lighthearted. It’s obvious the man loves his dogs and their company. It’s one of those exhibits that makes you feel good.”

Bauers’ hands wave around as she excitedly discusses Wegman.

“His work is a commentary on art history, on humor, on who is the subject beneath all this regalia. It’s so uniquely Bill,” she said. “His work has been everywhere. It’s in Barnes and Noble, on PBS, on late night talk shows. He is prolific. He’s in every major art museum you could find. So people – whether they know his name or not – can totally recognize his work.”

“William Wegman: Outside In” will be on view in the Pizzagalli Center for Arts and Education’s Murphy Gallery through Oct. 20. A video interview with Wegman and more information about the artist and the exhibit are online at shelburnemuseum.org.  

Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

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