Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

Solo en Inglès

Exhibition co-curators Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky discuss a selection of works by the legendary American artist, Paul Thek. The audio guide includes commentary by artist Neil Jenney and literary scholar Ed Burns, who also reads excerpts from the artist’s extensive writings.

PAUL THEK [ED  BURNS]: Monday I start again a figure this time not dead (Reborn! Reborn!) and the entire studio and my life is becoming art.

NARRATOR: After his death as a hippie, Thek is reborn as the Fishman, the figure you see here strapped to a table. To make the Fishman, he had his body cast in latex and attached cast fish that appear to support the swimming man. In Christianity, the fish is an emblem for Christ, and therefore, Thek’s flying Fishman has been interpreted as a symbol of resurrection.

The Fishman appeared in numerous installations, often hung from the ceiling. Imagine its setting, as it often was: much more crowded and complex than what you see here. In one installation, visitors approached the Fishman through a 70-foot-long tunnel. Picture yourself there as you listen to Thek’s own written description:

PAUL THEK [ED  BURNS]: One had to come through a twisting almost-pink newspaper tunnel, and walk up some steps onto a wharf which is in a truncated pyramid. On the inside are blue newspaper walls held up by trees from which I had not stripped the branches or leaves so it feels like a forest. So you are in a forest in a pyramid at the end of a tunnel and it is painted blue like the sea and lit by candles. And then the wharf is set as a dining room. And then you leave the pyramid. . . .

NARRATOR: At this moment, visitors encountered the strange and powerful Fishman, suspended from the ceiling. Below it sat the Dwarf Parade Table and beyond was a chicken coop, fishing boat, bathtubs, a sink, a piano, a confessional made from shipping crates, showers of tissues, hanging cherries, and countless other assemblages. It seems appropriate that Thek conceived of the visitors’ initial trek through the tunnel as a “voyage of initiation,” for the world beyond it was strange and marvelous.


Paul Thek (1933−1988), Fishman in Excelsis Table, 1970−71. Mixed media: wood, latex, wax, metal, paint, fabric, string, and Styrofoam, 29 ½ x 35 7/16 x 94 1/8 in. (75 x 90 x 239 cm). Kolumba, Cologne © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. © Kolumba, Koln/Lothar Schnept