Art centre barks up right tree as dog stars set to shine

HE IS the pioneering artist who has been charming the world by creating work with his dogs for the past 40 years.

• A three-part work titled Down

William Wegman shot to fame after unveiling his first Weimaraner as a gifted model.

The American photographer successfully persuaded several generations of his pet dogs to strike unusual positions, wear clothes and costumes, and even pose with musical instruments.

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Now his "family" of Weimar-aners are set to become star attractions in Scotland's capital after it emerged Wegman is to be honoured with a major retrospective at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

Wegman, whose deadpan dog portraits have been showcased in museums and galleries across the world, is creating an exclusive exhibition for the City Art Centre.

More than 60 of his best-known works with his pets will feature in the show, one of the first to be staged in the newly- refurbished venue when it reopens for major exhibitions this summer.

As well as the striking photography for which Wegman is best-known, the Edinburgh Art Festival show will also feature video footage and film clips of Wegman and his dogs, including some of his appearances on the hit TV show Sesame Street.

Wegman, who was born in Massachusetts, famously bought his first dog after a coin toss with his wife after he promised her a pet while he was teaching at the California State University.

He began a long collaboration with the dog he named Man Ray, which lasted until it died in 1981, but after a five-year gap Wegman decided to get another, Fay Ray, who became the artist's subject, as did her offspring and later generations of the "family".

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Wegman, now based in New York, has created a host of films and video works featuring his dogs over the decades, as well as a series of children's books inspired by his pets.

Many of the best-known portraits see the dogs interpreting various human idiosyncrasies.

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His pets are said to act as both stand-ins for, and mirrors of, their human audience.

Speaking about his work with his pets, he has said: "Weimaraners have a kind of blank, cool look, the look fashion models generally adopt on the runway.

"And then there is the colour. Grey. Grey, they say, goes with anything, so Weimaraners are the perfect fashion models.

"Blankness, neutrality, one can write on them over and over. You can't do that with a Golden Retriever, Dalmatian or Bull Dog."

Art critic Moira Jeffrey said: "Wegman is very well-known for his photographic work with dogs.

"People can relate to them, particularly in Britain and America, where they love having them as pets.

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"I'm sure this show will be pretty popular, with the sense of humour and fun of his work.

"I don't think there's anything sinister in it at all and these dogs are absolutely beautiful."

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Wegman will be the second American photographer to be celebrated at Edinburgh's City Art Centre this summer after plans were unveiled earlier this year for a major show by Edward Weston.

The venue is playing host to the biggest-ever exhibition of work, covering five decades, by the artist, who lived from 1886-1958.

Weston's landscapes of the western United States, his rich close-ups of natural forms and his sensuous nudes, made him one of the leading photographers of the 20th century.

A spokeswoman for the city council, which runs the centre, said: "This is William Wegman's first-ever comprehensive solo show in Scotland and the only opportunity to catch this exceptional photographic display in the UK."

Deidre Brock, the city's culture leader, said: "William Wegmans' photographs are absolutely captivating and this looks certain to be a must-see exhibition for all ages."

Other major shows confirmed for the Edinburgh Art Festival include a huge collection of work by the Impressionist painters, including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Manet and Sisley, at the National Gallery of Scotland, as well as a long-awaited exhibition devoted to the Lewis Chessmen at the National Museum of Scotland.

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• William Wegman: Family Connections is at the City Art Centre from 31 July.