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Review: William Wegman, before the dogs, at Marc Selwyn

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“He took two pictures. One came out” is a nifty little exhibition that, like a time capsule, takes viewers back to the 1970s, when William Wegman was just getting started as an artist and had not yet become famous for staging funny pictures of Weimaraners, often making them look more human than we are.

Nearly all of the small, comically captioned black-and-white photographs at Marc Selwyn Fine Art come from a cardboard box that Wegman packed up and left in his Santa Monica studio in 1973, when he moved to New York.

The box gathered dust until 1991, when John Baldessari, who had moved into Wegman’s studio when he left, mailed it to him in New York. It sat there even longer, until a few years ago, when curators from various Pacific Standard Time surveys started asking Wegman about the early days.

RELATED: For William Wegman, 1970s works seem so new

The gelatin silver prints in the box, along with even more unprinted negatives, reveal an artist noodling around with humor, staging strangely mundane studio shots and adding typed captions. All of Wegman’s pictures are amusing, in a smart, philosophic way. Most depict him in his studio, with a few basic props and an assistant. Man Ray, the first Weimaraner he worked with, makes his first appearance.

Ten of Wegman’s works consist of solitary images whose captions transform incidental scenarios into allegories about making and viewing art — while steering clear of pretense. Seven are pairs of images, inviting us to compare and contrast. A three-image piece explores shifts in perception. And a four-image piece tells a tale of failure winning out over persistence, in a way that’s signature Wegman: casual, efficient, endearing.

If you don’t know Wegman’s work, this exhibition is a great introduction. If you are familiar with his art, you won’t want to miss his pictures from 40 years ago, which simultaneously hint at what was to come while showing Wegman at his best: curiously optimistic about the ways miscommunication makes conversations even more meaningful.

Marc Selwyn Fine Art, 6222 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 101, (323) 933-9911, through July 6. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.marcselwynfineart.com

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