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Paul Thek

Untitled

1966

Paul Thek, Untitled, 1966  93.14
Paul Thek, Untitled, 1966. Wax, plexiglass, Formica and melamine laminate, and rhodium-plated bronze, 14 × 15 1/16 × 7 1/2 in. (35.6 × 38.3 × 19.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  93.14 For Teachers

about this work

This untitled work is from a group of sculptures that Paul Thek termed Technological Reliquaries, or “meat pieces.” In Catholic tradition—which Thek drew on frequently—reliquaries are sculptural containers intended to contain relics of the saints, often parts of their bodies. Thek responded to that tradition by creating Plexiglas boxes filled with naturalistic beeswax replicas of hunks of meat and body parts. In Untitled (1966), a replica of a severed limb oozes a fatty, marrow-like substance from its hollow opening. Short “hair” follicles spring from its waxy “skin.” Longer lengths of hair-like threads extend through holes at the top and side of the yellow-tinted Plexiglas case—a cross between a vitrine and an incubator—that is set on a Formica and plated bronze base. Discussing the unnerving juxtaposition between the boxes and their contents, Thek remarked:  “inside the glittery, swanky cases. . . Formica and glass and plastic—was something very unpleasant, very frightening, and looking absolutely real. . . the hottest subject known to man—the human body.” For Thek, this grotesque assemblage of organic and inorganic forms involved a response to the carnage of the Vietnam War, and an expression of fear that the scientific technology which fueled the war would suppress the human spirit.

Richard Flood, "Paul Thek: Real Misunderstanding,” Artforum20, 1981, 48-53.

Audio

Audio guide stop for Introduction to Paul Thek’s Meat Pieces

Installation view of Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 21–January 1, 2011). Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Installation view of Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 21–January 1, 2011). Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Video

In this video, the artist Paul Thek’s sculptures of meat (1965–66), on view in the exhibition Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, are discussed.

look closer

What do you see in this box?

What does it look like?

Does the object inside the box remind you of anything?

Where do you think it came from and how did it end up in this box?

Activities

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Paul Thek, Untitled, 1966  93.14 For Teachers

Ask students to describe the object they see in the box. What does it look like? Ask students to imagine where it came from and how it ended up in this box.

Let students know that the object inside this Plexiglas box may look like a piece of glistening, raw meat, but the meat is not real! The artist Paul Thek (1933–1988) crafted this “meat piece” using beeswax colored with oil paint. He sculpted the wax, adding materials such as nylon thread for hair and tiny glass beads to achieve a globular texture. Thin layers of DayGlo paint and glossy resin make the meat look juicy.

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