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Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

Oct 21, 2010–Jan 9, 2011

Works from the exhibition

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wood, melamine laminate, metal, wax, paint, hair, and Plexiglas, 19 × 12 × 8 ½ in. (48.3 × 30.5 × 21.6 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Judith Rothschild Foundation © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York 
© 2009 Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource, NY
Paul Thek, Untitled (Buzzard), 1968. Wood, taxidermic buzzard, shoes, paint, metal, black-and-white photographs, string, Plexiglas, and wax, 51 3/16 × 42 1/8 × 19 11/16 in. (130 × 107 × 50 cm). Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna 
© The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York
Paul Thek, Untitled (Sedan Chair), 1968. Wood, wax, paint, metal, leather, glass, and plaster, 79 × 39 3/8 × 39 3/8 in. (200 × 100 × 100 cm). Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Ludwig Donation Image courtesy Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln
© The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy 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, Warrior’s Arm, 1967, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wax, paint, leather, metal, wood, resin, and Plexiglas, 9 ½ x 39 × 9 ½ in. (24.1 × 99.1 × 24.1 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Henry L. Hillman Fund, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Rich Fund, Carnegie Mellon Art Gallery Fund, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, and Tillie and Alexander C. Speyer Fund for Contemporary Art, 2010.3 © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.  Photograph by Jason Mandella
Paul Thek, Untitled (Four Tube Meat Piece), 1964, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wax, metal, wood, paint, glass, plaster, rubber, resin, and glass, 16 1/8 × 16 ¼ x 5 3/8 in. (41 × 41.3 × 13.7 cm). Kolodny Family Collection © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.  Photograph by Orcutt & Van Der Putten
Paul Thek, Afflict the Comfortable, Comfort the Afflicted, c. 1985. Synthetic polymer on canvas board, 18 × 24 in. (45.7 × 61 cm). Collection of Gail and Tony Ganz © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Douglas M. Parker Studio
Paul Thek, Untitled (Dinosaur), 1971. Tempera, oil, and graphite on newspaper, 22 ¾ x 33 3/16 in. (57.8 × 84.3 cm). Alexander and Bonin, New York, and Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York
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Paul Thek’s Sacraments

Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Pages from Paul Thek’s notebook #75, c. 1975. Watermill Center Collection; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Paul Thek’s “96 Sacraments” were written in one of his notebooks (#75, 1975). Thek wrote in a journal daily in the 1970s and 80s. Upon his death he had filled almost 100 journals, most of which were black and white composition books.
 
In the catalogue for Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, Tina Kukielski writes: “Like most journals, they reveal deeply personal thoughts about friends, relationships, and sex, as well as Thek’s private shames and insecurities, and his efforts—like prayers—to be better in every way, especially as an artist.”


The Photography of Peter Hujar

Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Thek Working on Tomb Effigy 8, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Thek Working on Tomb Effigy 8, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Studio Wall with Clippings 2, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Studio Wall with Clippings 2, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Tomb Figure, Face, Hand 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Tomb Figure, Face, Hand 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Thek Working with Top of Face Sculpture 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Thek Working with Top of Face Sculpture 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Hand Sculpture 2, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Hand Sculpture 2, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Thek Working with Bicycle Wheel Above 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Thek Working with Bicycle Wheel Above 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Face of the Tomb Effigy 6, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Face of the Tomb Effigy 6, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Shelf with Hand 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Peter Hujar (1934–1987), Thek Studio Shoot Shelf with Hand 1, 1967. Color slide. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

In 1967 at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in New York, Paul Thek had a solo show of his now-lost work, The Tomb, a life-sized effigy of the artist laid to rest in a pink ziggurat—an installation that helped cement Thek’s growing reputation in the United States. Inside the tomb lay a sculpture that was composed of a mannequin body to which a face and hands cast in wax from Thek’s own form were added. The artist Neil Jenney helped Thek with the process and together they dressed the effigy in a suit jacket and jeans, painted the clothing a pale pink, and adorned it with jewelry made of human hair and gold.

For more than a decade after this initial exhibition, the “Hippie” traveled extensively, in the United States and abroad, appearing in its original sculptural setting and without the ziggurat as part of his later installations. Despite its popularity, or perhaps because of it, Thek grew tired of the work, pleading in 1981, “I really don’t want to have to do that piece AGAIN! Oh God no! Not THAT one. Imagine having to bury yourself over and over.” When his effigy finally returned to New York in the early 1980s, Thek refused to accept the shipment and, ultimately, all but a few fragments were lost.

Paul Thek met the photographer Peter Hujar around 1956, and the two embarked on an artistic, intimate, and at times erotic collaboration that is often detailed in the many photographs Hujar made of Thek over the next decade. In 1967, Hujar arrived at Thek’s studio to photograph the artist with the “Hippie.” The photo session was intended to yield images that would be used to publicize the show at the Stable Gallery and, while one of Hujar’s photos did indeed appear as the exhibition poster, the session in its entirety.

In the selection from these images shown here, Hujar’s lens creates surreal compositions in which Thek’s body appears not once but in multiples; he peers over his wax figure as copies of his hands and face lie scattered around the studio. These previously unknown photographs offer an otherwise impossible view of Thek’s effigy not only in its entirety, but from various vantage points, in color, and with Thek’s attentive presence completing the figure.