Before/On/After: William Wegman and California Conceptualism at The Met Breuer

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will host Before/On/After: William Wegman and California Conceptualism from 17 January – 15 July at The Met Breuer.

Illustrating the development of Conceptual Art in 1970’s Southern California, the show is of particular significance due to artist William Wegman’s recent gift to the Museum of 174 short videos he made between 1970 and 1999.

Spanning an entire career working in the medium, a 90-minute selection of these videos will be shown, along with photographs and drawings by Wegman.  Also on display will be the work of his Californian contemporaries including drawings, prints and photographs by fellow artists John Baldessari, Vija Celmins, Douglas Huebler, Ed Ruscha and others.

Wegman started working in video whilst teaching painting at the University of Illinois in the mid-1960s.

Wegman particularly appreciated video for its lo-fi reproducibility and anti-artistic qualities.

Unlike film, where the negative must be developed and processed before viewing, Wegman enjoyed that video was like a sketchbook allowing artistic revision in real time.

It wasn’t until he moved to Southern California in 1970 that Wegman’s video production took off.  Though he lived in Los Angeles for only three years, the artist had found his method:  Short, staged vignettes using everyday items in which expectations are reversed and puns and homonyms pursued to absurd conclusions. Wegman’s key early collaborator for most of these short videos was his beloved dog, Man Ray the Weimaraner, an enthusiastic and central participant in many of the works. He is pictured at top.

Wegman took pleasure in delivering an aesthetic with focus on humorous, improvised scenarios that deflated the pretensions of painting and sculpture, whilst also making satire of the self-seriousness of the Conceptual Art movement.

Beneath the slacker humor, however, are poignant points about failure and the reversal of expectations that resonate with work by other West Coast Conceptualists—the friends and fellow travelers also featured in the exhibition.

The Met does modern on Madison at The Met Breuer. Before/On/After: William Wegman and California Conceptualism is open from 17 January – 15 July. More info here.

Seen at top: Before/On/After: Permutations I Artist: William Wegman (American, born 1943) Date: 1972 Medium: Gelatin silver print. © William Wegman, Courtesy of the Artist

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