Walk on the mild side

By GREG COOK  |  April 9, 2007

Part of the joke is that the Weimaraner is a gentleman’s dog, and Wegman’s are bred by one of the top Weimaraner persons in the country. The breed’s stateliness makes it a choice straight man for his fractured society portraits. Buried underneath are class issues: the dog is a status symbol, and what we’re watching is a rich man with the time and money to goof off with his purebred pooch. The dogs never smile, never appear to be having a good time.

In the mid 1980s, during one of his many summers in the Rangeley Lakes region of southwestern Maine, Wegman began a series of thrift-store-style “bad” paintings that are, well, bad. These led, in the mid 1990s, to works in which he collages together vintage postcards and paints dreamy linking scenes in between. The 16-foot-wide The Tilted Chair (2003) is a sunset fantasy of parrots, palm trees, and ocean liners. Cat on a Rock (2005) depicts a cute kitten perched in the midst of a verdant wonderland of cabins and canoers and hippos and Leda and the swan. The brushwork is still clunky, but you hardly notice it. Your eyes dart from one in-focus postcard, over the blurry painting in between, to the next. It’s a joke, but Wegman begins to tap something deeper: saccharine middle-class easy-listening American notions of paradise and civic pride. The result is some of his finest work.

‘William Wegman: Funney/Strange’ | Addison Gallery of American Art, 180 Main St, Andover | Through July 31

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