Witty and wonderful, William Wegman’s unseen Polaroids are instant classics
William Wegman – erstwhile Wallpaper* Guest Editor — is filling two floors of New York gallery Sperone Westwater with never before seen Polaroid pictures, which were only recently discovered. Taken over 30 years, they begin with his first 20 x 24 Polaroid camera experiments in 1979.
Most of those photographs, of course, feature Weimaraner dogs, the subject Wegman is best known (and adored) for. His own beloved canine muse, Fay Ray, and relatives are among them, dressed up in luxuriant coats, cardigans, and chiffon, and also in the buff. There is abundant humour and hilarity in his spontaneous shots, from the laugh-out-loud Wiggled (2005) to Proboscidea (1993). The quirkiness of his subject doesn’t evade Wegman.
The Polaroids present the consistent formal quality in Wegman’s work, and an interest in exploring his subjects within the canon of art history: from an early picture in a pared-down chocolate palette, See/Hear (1989) to the abstract, compositional Daisy Nut Cake (1994) and works such as Of the Cloth (1990) and Chick Chick (1991) that experiment with shape and patterns.
Although they’re as relatable, stylish and empathetic as the biped subject, it isn’t, Wegman has explained, a case of anthropomorphising the animals, but rather, our own way of looking, that makes these pictures so compelling to us. As he writes in his forthcoming book, Being Human: ‘I think that is how we are wired, to see ourselves.’