Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, William Wegman received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1965 and an MFA from the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, in 1967. Initially trained as a painter, he turned to sculpture and, after teaching for several years at the University of Wisconsin and California State College, Long Beach, began to pursue photography and video. Wegman’s pioneering performative videotapes—humorous conceptual works in dialogue with Minimal art—garnered him early art world recognition, and his work was featured in a number in landmark international exhibitions, including When Attitude Becomes Form (1969) and Documenta V (1972).
Wegman is best known for his photographs and videos centered on his Weimaraner dogs, which appear in a variety of costumes and poses. The first and most famous of the Weimaraners was the late Man Ray, whom Wegman purchased for a small sum while living in Long Beach, California. Man Ray functioned as both the straight-faced “everyman” and alter ego for Wegman. Responding to stimuli provided by Wegman in absurdist situations, Man Ray’s perfectly timed reactions generated humor, but also a poignant, quasi-philosophical reflection about humankind’s position in the world. When Wegman was asked how he felt about his work being so closely associated with Man Ray, he said, “it irked me sometimes to be known as the guy with the dog, but on the other hand it was a thrill to have a famous dog.” Following Man Ray’s death in 1981, Wegman worked with a successor, Fay Ray, beginning in 1986. With Fay Ray, Wegman produced a series of 20 × 24-inch Polaroid photographs that were widely viewed and well received by the general public. In 1989, the birth of Fay Ray’s litter provided Wegman with the opportunity to work with multiple dogs simultaneously.
Wegman has become one of the world’s best known contemporary artists, and his work has straddled the realms of popular culture and high art. Among his many solo exhibitions at major museums was a 1990 retrospective which travelled to the Whitney Museum. He continues to produce photographs, video, and films based on his Weimaraners, and in recent years, he has also reinvigorated his painting and drawing practice.
William Wegman, “Videotapes: Seven reels.” In M. Klandunz (Ed.), William Wegman: Paintings, drawings, photographs, videotapes. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990), 19.