In July, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art opened “William Wegman: Hello Nature,” a retrospective exhibit featuring three decades of photographs, paintings, drawings, and collages by the artist William Wegman.
The show follows last summer’s Edward Hopper exhibit in its attempt to redefine a well-known artist through the lens of his relationship with Maine.
The exhibit has been enormously successful, attracting national media coverage as well as visitors from all over the country, such as Martha Steward, who attended the opening gala.
Wegman is best known for his clever portraiture of hunting dogs, and his beloved Weimaraners make many appearances in the exhibit, most notably in a 25-minute detective film titled “The Hardly Boys.”
Nature has always figured prominantly in Wegman’s work. Since a teenage fishing trip to the Rangely Lakes region, Maine has long been a part of Wegman’s relationship with nature.
Although Wegman’s works may be disparate in form, each piece featured in “Hello Nature” was either produced in Maine or influenced by the state’s natural splendor.
Wegman played a huge role in designing and implementing the exhibit, and the layout is a particularly important part of the show.
“Many people worked for and with Wegman, but he made all of the artistic decisions himself,” said Museum Curator Joachim Homann. “It's as if visitors experience the entire exhibit as a work of art.”
Indeed, though there is nothing awe-inspiring about the scale of Wegman’s work, the exhibit is compelling in its ability to create a narrative that explains the artist’s lifelong fascination with nature. Wegman’s work is playful but incredibly sincere. There is a refreshing innocence to his exploration of nature; in its simplicity, his work captures a sense of childhood reverence for the wilderness. There are also hints of sadness, through; Wegman's art is a reminder that growing up means losing a blissful naiveté. He falls in the same domain as that of Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson, as both seek to explore the tension between the child and adult worlds.
While “Hello Nature” has helped Wegman shed his reputation as “the guy who takes pictures of his dogs in human clothes,” it does not diminish the importance of this facet of his career.
"Visitors come in knowing about the Weimaraner work, but at the end of perusing the show, they realize the dog photos are much smarter, only one aspect of a body of work that is much deeper,” said Homann.
In one painting, appropriately titled “Tents,” Wegman investigates the form and aesthetic of old canvas tents. There is something haunting about the cubist nature of this work—it is difficult to number the tents he portrays, as they exist in various forms of wholeness. The fact that the canvas on which he paints is the same material as his subject only adds to the complexity of the piece.
With another work, “Water Damage,” Wegman paints over a vintage postcard, creating a collage that generates a capricious and fantastical landscape. A simple postcard becomes the view of a lake through the open window of a cabin. Wegman extends the view of the lake through an open door and paints water trickling curiously into the cabin.
Wegman currently resides part-time in Rangeley, Maine with his Weimaraners.
The exhibit will be open until October 21.