“Water Work,” by William Wegman, 1998, Chromogenic Printby Barbara Duff
Coastal Journal contributor
BRUNSWICK — Put the Bowdoin College Museum of Art on your summer list of “must-see” destinations. Fresh on the heels of international accolades for “Edward Hopper’s Maine,” the museum plans to open another Maine-themed blockbuster titled “William Wegman: Hello Nature,” with a companion exhibition called “A River Lost & Found: The Androscoggin River in Time and Place.” The twin exhibits will open at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 13, and remain open for the Second Friday Brunswick Art Walk from 5 until 8 p.m. The exhibition ends on October 21. Admission is free.
William Wegman, who splits his time between New York and Maine, is best known for creating a series of compositions involving several generations of his own Weimaraner dogs in various costumes and poses. He is internationally recognized as a pioneering video artist, conceptualist, photographer, painter, and writer. Wegman’s videos have appeared on “Sesame Street,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “Nickelodeon,” and he has published more than 10 works for children, as well as written numerous catalogues. His film “The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold,” starring two Weimaraner sleuths that spoof the Hardy Boys action adventures, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995, and will be shown continuously during museum hours as part of the Wegman show.
The exhibition showcases over 30 years of Wegman’s work, and features more than 100 works in varied media including photography, video, painting (watercolor and oils), and drawing (pencil and ink). All of the works were produced in or inspired by Maine, and bear witness to his “vigorous and sustained engagement with the natural world, placing him squarely within the American landscape tradition,” says Museum Director Kevin Salatino.
“I have always been interested in nature and nature writings in particular,” says Wegman, “especially when it comes to clashing concepts of nature – American transcendentalism, the Boy Scouts, Field and Stream magazine, new age musings, nature scrapbooks, etc.” For the past three decades, he has spent part of every year in the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine. Much of his “nature-inflected work” has gestated there, and his first mature painting was “born” there in 1985, according to the exhibition catalogue.
The large format (24 by 20 inch) color polaroids of his Weimaraner dogs deadpanning in various natural settings will bring a smile to your face, whether they are posing in a tent entrance (“Shelter,” 1991), dockside watching the lake (“Overlook,” 1991), camouflaged with leaves (“Camofleur,” 1992) or disguised as a moose (“Moose Crossing,” 1992). But there are many other eloquent works that do not include the Weimaraners. A series of delicately lyrical watercolors, including “Sunflower Impression” (1992), “Life Would Bee Boring Without Animals” (1993), and the witty dialogue between insects pictured in “Nothing Later” (1992) are a case in point. The largest piece in the exhibit is a 61 by 77 inch landscape entitled “Tents,” an oil and acrylic painting on canvas done in 1996. There is also another majestically large landscape (58 by 60 inch) called “Activities” also done in oil and acrylic.
“I don’t really know what it all comes out to. I know I’m basically a painter…and that my total warmth, love, and desire in being an artist is rooted in that…But I have a most delectable sidetrack – really a love affair with the dogs – that I make no attempt to deny,” muses Wegman in the catalogue.
The Bowdoin College/Prestel Publishing sponsored exhibition catalogue, “Hello Nature: How to Draw, Paint, Cook and Find Your Way,” by William Wegman, will be for sale at the Museum gift shop during the exhibition for $34.95 plus tax. It includes the artist’s commentary, texts by the exhibition curators, and a piece of short fiction by award-winning author Padgett Powell. It is marvelously evocative of Wegman’s take on the natural world of Maine. Admission to the exhibit is free, so use your money to buy a catalogue.
Special opening events are scheduled on Saturday, July 14, the day after the show officially opens. William Wegman will deliver a keynote talk at 5 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, followed by a reception at the Museum from 6 until 7:30 p.m.
Both events are free and open to the public. The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is located on the campus of Bowdoin College just off Maine Street in Brunswick. For more information or driving directions, call 725-3275, or go to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art web site at bowdoin.edu/art-museum.
Note: The entire Bowdoin College Museum of Art, including the museum Shop, will be closed from July 2 through July 12 for building improvement and exhibition installation. Visitors are encouraged to stop by the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum to view the world-class collection of Inuit art.