While you're trying to decide whether William Wegman is ultimately sublime or merely ridiculous, you'll more than likely laugh out loud, right there in the Corcoran Gallery.
At that point your walk through the Corcoran's current "Wegman's World" exhibit will have become worth it, whether or not you ever do make up your mind about this Wegman character.
Wegman -- photographer, conceptual artist, video vaudevillian -- is notorious for waffling on the subject of his own place in art, anyway. "They always ask me what my art stands for," he once said, "and I tell them it doesn't stand, it sits."
"Sits" is actually what Wegman's favorite subject -- his late Weimaraner, Man Ray -- does best in this exhibit. His master's imagination and keen sense of the absurd, the irrational and the hilarious do the rest.
Here is Man Ray being graded on a spelling test in one of Wegman's short video sketches (a 20-minute collection of his 1970 to 1978 video pieces is probably the best part of the exhibit): "We meant beach, like sand," Wegman scolds the dog, who squirms contritely, seated on a stool at the end of a long table. Man Ray had spelled it b-e-e-c-h.
In another sketch Wegman attempts to sell a vibrating chair -- a bare steel-and- wood desk chair that operates on the same principle, says a deadpan Wegman, as a tuning fork and comes with its own "striker." "The only problem is, you have to hit it quite often," says the artist, banging away in earnest.
Among the 125 drawings and photos on display are Wegman's early-'70s conceptual photo pieces, captioned black-and-white images that display his ability to simultaneously confound us and convulse us in giggles. Evidence: A square sheet of wood leans against a wall, resting on a pair of shoes; the caption reads, "To hide his deformity, he wore special clothing." A 1972 piece titled "Doing the Dishes" shows a couple on a sofa, studying their dishes. In another photo, a stuffed parrot casts the shadow of a crow.
Man Ray (the dog, not the Dada artist) figures prominently in the exhibit's room of Wegman's most recent work -- striking, 20- by-24-inch Polaroid photographs composed with care and colored with humor and Wegman's obvious affection for his partner in art.
In "Ray and Mrs. Lubner in Bed Watching TV" (1981), Man Ray and his canine companion are propped up in a rustic, tacky bedroom, seen through clich,ed rabbit ears in the foreground. Wegman's penchant for metamorphosis comes through in his 1982 "FROG/frog," in which Man Ray, with Ping Pong balls for eyes and scuba flippers on his paws, faces a ceramic frog on a mock lily pad; and in "Fey Ray" (1979), in which the dog, posing with a jar of nail polish, offers a limp paw and a winning smile to the lens. WEGMAN'S WORLD -- From the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art through August 28.