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.

ELISABETH SUSSMAN:  He is a person, we know, who was really physically very attractive, very sort of classic and almost preppy at this point in his life, and athletic; he liked to swim and surf.

NARRATOR: Curator Elisabeth Sussman describes Paul Thek as Andy Warhol has captured him on film in 1964. Thek’s friend Ed Burns recalled:

ED BURNS: There was a magnetism, not just a sexual magnetism. He was interesting. He always had interesting conversation. He asked interesting questions, with great precision.

NARRATOR: Thek was born in Brooklyn in 1933 and raised in a devout Catholic family. He studied art at Pratt and Cooper Union. By the time of this film, he had forged a deep friendship with the writer Susan Sontag. They developed their ideas about art and culture together:

ELISABETH SUSSMAN: He would read philosophy that she suggested and obscure historical accounts of the Middle Ages. And it wasn’t that he was just a sponge, at all, soaking up what she told him to read. He was always very reflective of what he was reading and he would send back to her remarks that were very personal and quirky. He was always very original; he was very, very intelligent without being academic.

NARRATOR: Sontag dedicated her first book to Thek, a landmark of critical theory called Against Interpretation.