Before William Wegman shot the large format photographs of Weimaraner dogs that would win him—and his subjects—mass acclaim, he created equally playful and imaginative short video works. In 1970, despite having graduated with an MFA in painting and printmaking from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Wegman was one of the many artists who proclaimed that the medium of painting was “dead.” Throughout the early 70s, artists would find their antidote in Minimalism, Conceptual art, Body art/Performance, and Post-minimalism. Wegman responded by moving to California, buying a dog, and making video art.
Borrowing from all of the prevailing styles while claiming none, Wegman made over a thousand videos between 1970 and 1978, all averaging a minute long. His mock commercials, absurdist demonstrations, impersonations, send-ups, and pseudo-confessionals took from the mass communication visible on television screens across America, as the 60s dream of a utopian future faded from public consciousness. With all the trappings of a new era in art and culture and a “smart / dumb” eloquence, Wegman had only to start the reel and to see what happened. Like an ingenious child alone in his room and struck by boredom, Wegman improvised with the props at hand: inanimate objects, his body, and his first dog, Man Ray. He threw off the decade’s sense of foreboding with sight gags, double-binds, and visual clichés executed in pitch perfect deadpan humor. In unscripted, unedited videos shot in real time and using only actual sound, Wegman rendered the cosmic joke as a doodle.
William Wegman’s Video Works, 1970-74, on loan from Dr. James K. Patterson, will screen continuously in the Brooks’ Orientation Theater, entry level, through January 10, 2015.