Most people consider subways as congested, dull, and dreary – a mere transit point for weary travelers just rushing through to get on with the daily grind of travel and work. But a charming exhibit on the New York City subway managed the impossible – Stationary Figures, a series of colorful mosaics of Weimaraner dogs, provided a pleasant distraction for thousands of perpetually harassed commuters.
Created by renowned artist William Wegman, the exhibit stars Flo and Topper, who are part of a long line of Weimaraners owned by Wegman. Born in 1943 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Wegman earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston in 1965 and a Master of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana in 1967. He taught art in universities and was exhibiting his work in national and international museums and galleries by the 1970s.
Around this time, while residing in Long Beach, California, Wegman got Man Ray, his first Weimaraner. Man Ray, with his endearing deadpan presence, played a key role in the evolution of Wegman’s creative journey. Wegman shifted from painting to photography, and his portraits of Weimaraners in people’s clothing soon became his best known artworks.
Man Ray was featured prominently in Wegman’s photographs and videos and became so well-known, in and beyond the art world, that he was named “Man of the Year” by the Village Voice on his death in 1982.
It was not until 1986 when Wegman decided to collaborate anew with another Weimaraner, whom he named Fay Ray. Generations of Weimaraners descended from Fay would then be cast in numerous photographs, exhibits, books for both children and adults, videos, films, and other publications.
Soon enough the famous dogs ended up on the New York City infrastructure. Stationary Figures was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Arts and Design’s Enhanced Station Initiative, a program that brings public art to the New York City Subway. The eye-catching installation graces the walls of the 23rd Street Station of the NYC subway and features 11 panels with Flo and Topper posing as humans.
Wegman specifically dressed the dogs to look like regular New Yorkers. “I wanted to create portraits of individual characters, people who you might see next to you on the platform. For these I dressed the dogs in more or less ordinary clothes, nothing too fashionable.” Images of the dogs were then rendered in glass by Mayer of Munich, a historic glass and mosaic workshop.
“I was very interested in the way in which photographs, even the out of focus dogs in the background of some images, could be translated into mosaic by Mayer of Munich, who skillfully turned grey stones into grey dogs.”
This is not the first time that Wegman’s dogs have been called upon to bring cheer to tired travelers. In 2005, portraits of two of Wegman’s dogs dressed as astronauts were installed on the high vaulted concrete ceilings of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Southwest D.C. A mural of four Weimaraners was also mounted inside a Maine Turnpike rest stop in Kennebunkport. “But no one ever looks up at it.”
In crafting his design for the MTA, Wegman realized that getting people’s attention would be a challenge. “When I go to these stations, I do look at the mosaics, but maybe that’s because I’m an artist … typically, people are thinking more about where they’re going.”
Wegman’s thoughtful deliberation and creative collaboration resulted in glittering artworks that now brightens, however briefly, an otherwise uneventful day to work.