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Paul Thek

Untitled

1966

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.

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

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