New York

William Wegman

Holly Solomon Gallery

If there were a custom of naming sandwiches after artists, the William Wegman would certainly be a ham on wry. Wegman, like many artists who argue that Conceptual art is a good idea, is the consummate deadpan presence with a classic deadly dilemma: the need to produce a commodity while enjoying the reputation of eminence blonde of the anti-commodity art mart. The ham part of Wegman gleefully mass-produced drawings and doctored photographs; the wry part sees this act with tilted humor. As in his videotapes, Wegman’s wit is alternately dependent on visual jokes and the caption which shows the disparity between visual and verbal.

His most recent show was divided between drawings and photographs. The drawings are the arena for his visual/verbal legerdemain; the photographs are almost exclusively visuals, independent of caption or annotation. For Wegman, the activities of drawing and snap-shooting are fresh and unstudied. Even though he uses a Hasselblad, you can’t call his snaps “photographs”; they are unpretentious—like everything he does. His defacement of photographs is amusing: consider the double portrait of his Weimeraner Man Ray in front of the World Trade Towers—it appears that the dog is concentrating on something—Wegman has inked in a splotch in flight to explain Man Ray’s expression. Or the shot of people loitering in the World Trade Center mezzanine—microscopic figures in longshot have been supplied with india ink genitals courtesy of Wegman’s playful prurience. But it’s Wegman’s drawings that have a vivid originality; perhaps it’s their captions that captivate.

Like the person who never develops a standard signature, it’s possible Wegman will never develop a standard drawing style. Consistency comes through in his humor. Comparative situations are his specialty, the set-up is one he knows won’t fail him. Crosscountry Eating Habits is a drawing with three captions, “New York,” “Chicago,” and “Los Angeles.” New York is cheesecake and expresso, Chicago a doughnut and coffee, and Los Angeles a dorito and champagne. The drawing, like the title and captions, is economic; the official-sounding title of the investigation is punctured by the deflated quality of the drawing. A fast drawing for fast food. Another, “Three Bridges,” is just that: a steel arch, a cantilever, and a suspension bridge are drawn on top of each other in a show-offy fashion reminiscent of the boulevard hawker so anxious to please that he has one object in twenty styles—one of which is sure to be to your taste. And that’s the secret of Wegman’s success: he deploys enough styles of humor that one is certainly to be to your taste; once you laugh, you’re hooked.

Carrie Rickey