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: Three years after his last major installation in a European museum, Thek received a letter stating that the museum could no longer afford to store his work. He responded angrily:

PAUL THEK [ED  BURNS]: Can’t you educate your museum friends . . . of the IMPORTANCE of these shows? . . . Can’t you educate them so that they will become willing to spend some few thousands of [dollars] for a show that does NOT remain, that is NOT purchaseable, that CANNOT be resold? This is the POINT.

NARRATOR: Once a champion of ephemeral art, it was now painful for Thek to see his work—and his legacy—disappear. In fact, managing the army of people required to make the installations had become stressful, and Thek was already moving in a new direction. He made small paintings and sculptures. For the first time he worked in bronze, a material that can survive thousands of years.