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Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

Oct 21, 2010–Jan 9, 2011

Paul Thek (1933-1988), Untitled (Hand with Ring), 1967. Wood, plaster, paint, and metal, 7 5/16 × 4 1/2 × 4 1/2 in. (18.5 × 11.5 × 11.5 cm). Collection of Ed Burns; on long-term loan to the Watermill Center. Photograph by Gary Mamay. © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.
Paul Thek, Untitled, 1966, from the series Technological Reliquaries. Wax, paint, polyester resin, nylon monofilament, wire, plaster, plywood, melamine laminate, rhodium plated bronze, and Plexiglas, 14 × 15 1/16 × 7 1/2 in. (35.6 × 38.3 × 19.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 93.14 © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photograph by Geoffrey Clements

Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective is the first retrospective in the United States devoted to the legendary American artist Paul Thek (1933-1988). A sculptor, painter, and one of the first artists to create environments or installations, Thek came to recognition showing his sculpture in New York galleries in the 1960s. The first works exhibited, which he began making in 1964 and called “meat pieces” as they were meant to resemble flesh, were encased in Plexiglas boxes that recall Minimal sculptures. At the end of the sixties, Thek left for Europe, where he created extraordinary environments, incorporating elements from art, literature, theater, and religion, often employing fragile and ephemeral substances, including wax and latex. After a decade, at the end of the seventies, Thek changed direction, moved back to New York, and turned to the making of small, sketch-like paintings on canvas, although he continued to create environments in key international exhibitions. With his frequent use of highly perishable materials, Thek accepted the ephemeral nature of his art works—and was aware, as writer Gary Indiana has noted, of “a sense of our own transience and that of everything around us.” With loans of work never before seen in the US, this exhibition is intended to introduce Thek to a broader American audience.

Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective is co-organized by Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

Joint support for this exhibition is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts,  the National Endowment for the Arts, The Dietrich Foundation, and Gail and Tony Ganz.

Major support for the Whitney’s presentation is provided by the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Significant support is provided by Beth Rudin DeWoody.

Antique Carpets courtesy of the Nazmiyal Collection, New York

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Major exhibitions abroad and critical attention from younger artists have done much to revive his reputation, and Paul Thek: Diver expands on those efforts by bringing the artist’s resounding influence on the art world up to date. Published to accompany Thek’s first retrospective in the United States, this landmark publication includes nearly 300 chronologically arranged illustrations of sculptures, paintings, prints, and other works featured in the exhibition as well as four special “in-depth” image sections focusing on key installations, projects, and pages from the artist’s journals. An extensive selection of documentary photographs, many never before published, illuminate Thek’s artistic aesthetic and production process. With a bibliography, exhibition history, and checklist of works in the exhibition, this overdue acknowledgment of Thek’s brief, but broad-reaching career will be the authoritative volume on the artist for years to come.

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In the News

Review: “a ragged, moving and much-anticipated retrospective”
The New York Times

Review: “remarkable . . . he is too little known, and his redisovery promises to have a galvanizing effect on young artists.”
The New Yorker

Audio Slideshow: Peter Schjeldahl looks at the work of Paul Thek
The New Yorker

"Thek has returned in our moment of need to remind us of the difference between hermeneutics and erotics"

Review: "A true pioneer of installation art, he dodged many of the isms that defined his era (1933–1988) and came up with his own style."
--The Brooklyn Rail

Video: Using Science to Preserve Art
The New York Times

“The Improvised Remedies of an Art Healer” (conserving the work of Paul Thek)
The New York Times

"A Short Jaunt Through the Whitney's Meat & Bone Collection"
--The Huffington Post

“the first major United States survey of works by this legendary and complex artist”
T Magazine/The New York Times

This pioneer of installation art dodged many of the isms that defined his era (1933–1988) and came up with a style completely his own.”
Time Out New York Must See Fall Museum Shows