William Wegman, popularly known as the dog guy, likes to photograph Weimaraners in various getups -- blond wig and leopard-print panties, for instance. That he can be funny in just about any medium -- painting, drawing and especially video -- is evident from his retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum. Funney/Strange echoes with laughter: not the knowing snorts that meet many satirical or cynical museum pieces, but outright guffaws.
As you'd expect, there are plenty of dog photos in the show, but they are mostly easy one-liners: A dog shows its rear to the camera, another wears devil horns and is called Bad Dog. A Polaroid of a Weimaraner on a pedestal with her foot outstretched to another block (``Connector,'' 1994) is cute, formally accomplished -- and uninteresting.
But Wegman's early, short videos from the 1970s were pioneering. He was one of several artists -- including Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci and Dara Birnbaum --experimenting with the new medium, and he uncovered its slapstick potential. Eventually, Wegman, now 63, made videos for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street.
Most of the videos here run less than a minute and use simple props, such as his own body and stuff strewn about his studio. In Spit Sandwich, the artist spreads cream cheese on a bagel, spits in it and then hands it to a lucky recipient off- camera.
Jokey and Odd
The exhibition's title Funney/Strange (the odd spelling is the artist's and has no specific meaning) emphasizes how Wegman's work can hit both ``funny ha-ha'' and ``funny peculiar'' targets, as the wall text puts it. Like Dali or Duchamp, he deploys humor to put the strangeness of everyday life into relief. One of his running jokes is about entropy: Everything, from plungers to bodies to doggy impulses, tends toward disorder -- which is not always a laughing matter.
Wegman's recent paintings leave the realm of outright laughter and gently send up what we do with ourselves when we have free time. He takes luridly painted tourist postcards from the 1950s and '60s and extends their reach on canvas.
Pier (2005) starts with a postcard of a fishing pier and brings the ocean and the wooden planks onto the full canvas, adding more fishermen in white T-shirts and bathing trunks. The original card recedes into the horizon as the view grows.
In an accompanying exhibition at Sperone Westwater gallery, new oil-on-wood paintings take center-stage, among smaller photographs from the 1970s.
Multiple found postcards make up a tour-de-force of hobbies in Recreation (2003). Images of boaters and pinups, bullfighters and bear lovers meet on one tableau. A golf course morphs into vineyards, as Wegman winds the cards together with impressionistic landscapes.
The postcards are international, but there is something particularly mid-century American about a vision of leisure amid plenty, filled with fishing trips and busty women.
The most satisfying work is one of the most recent. Wheeling Around (2006) uses the same technique of continuing perspective lines based on found postcards. To the central image of a man repairing wagon wheels outdoors, Wegman has added a barn with wheels swirling forward into near abstraction.
The lines are expressionistic and lyrical, but Wegman doesn't leave it at pretty. Out of one window is a postcard of vineyard workers by their wagon. A man takes a deep swig of jug wine as another scratches his head and looks at him. It's the unending human comedy.
- Carly Berwick