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.