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Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

Oct 21, 2010–Jan 9, 2011

Paul Thek (1933-1988), Untitled (Hand with Ring), 1967. Wood, plaster, paint, and metal, 7 5/16 × 4 1/2 × 4 1/2 in. (18.5 × 11.5 × 11.5 cm). Collection of Ed Burns; on long-term loan to the Watermill Center. Photograph by Gary Mamay. © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.
Paul Thek, Untitled, 1966, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wax, paint, polyester resin, nylon monofilament, wire, plaster, plywood, melamine laminate, rhodium plated bronze, and Plexiglas, 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 © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Geoffrey Clements

Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective is the first retrospective in the United States devoted to the legendary American artist Paul Thek (1933-1988). A sculptor, painter, and one of the first artists to create environments or installations, Thek came to recognition showing his sculpture in New York galleries in the 1960s. The first works exhibited, which he began making in 1964 and called “meat pieces” as they were meant to resemble flesh, were encased in Plexiglas boxes that recall Minimal sculptures. At the end of the sixties, Thek left for Europe, where he created extraordinary environments, incorporating elements from art, literature, theater, and religion, often employing fragile and ephemeral substances, including wax and latex. After a decade, at the end of the seventies, Thek changed direction, moved back to New York, and turned to the making of small, sketch-like paintings on canvas, although he continued to create environments in key international exhibitions. With his frequent use of highly perishable materials, Thek accepted the ephemeral nature of his art works—and was aware, as writer Gary Indiana has noted, of “a sense of our own transience and that of everything around us.” With loans of work never before seen in the US, this exhibition is intended to introduce Thek to a broader American audience.

Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective is co-organized by Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

Joint support for this exhibition is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts,  the National Endowment for the Arts, The Dietrich Foundation, and Gail and Tony Ganz.

Major support for the Whitney’s presentation is provided by the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Significant support is provided by Beth Rudin DeWoody.

Antique Carpets courtesy of the Nazmiyal Collection, New York