Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

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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.

Installation view of Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 21–January 1, 2011). Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.

NARRATOR: Dinosaurs roam in a pale pink landscape filled with volcanoes spewing rivers of orange lava. Such idiosyncratic imagery filled Thek’s notebooks and drawings. So when he encountered the dream-like visions of avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson, he felt an instant kinship. Thek wrote to a friend: “Our work goes together. He has fish hanging in trees. I couldn’t believe it. Pink pyramids.”

After Thek saw Wilson’s theater piece Deafman’s Glance in Paris, the two artists became friends. Thek later performed in the work, playing the part of a messenger who runs back and forth across the stage throughout the entire seven-hour production.

Thek helped Wilson design the sets for Overture for Ka Mountain and GUARDenia Terrace in 1972. The sets consisted of two enormous pink backdrops depicting an erupting volcano and the skeleton of a dinosaur. You can see a photograph of one in a case nearby.

After seeing Wilson’s revolutionary work, Thek began to think of his own installations as “life theater.” The two men remained friends for life, and Wilson became executor of Thek’s estate.