|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (March 2009)|
Paul Thek (November 2, 1933 - August 10, 1988) was an American painter and, later, sculptor and installation artist. Born in Brooklyn, he studied locally, at the Art Students League and the Pratt Institute. In 1951 he entered the Cooper Union.
Although Thek began as a painter, he became known later in life for his sculptures and installations. Notable works include Technological Reliquaries (1964–67), a series of wax sculptures of human body parts, and The Tomb, a bright pink pyramid installation or "environment", which was badly damaged in 1981 but is documented in Edwin Klein's black and white photographs. Today his work may be seen in numerous collections, including that of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
George Joseph Thek was born the second of four children to parents of German and Irish ancestry. In 1950, Thek studied at the Art Students League of New York as well as Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and finally at the Cooper Union School of the Arts in New York from 1951 until 1954. In 1954, Thek moved to Miami and worked in several different occupations. During this time, he created some of his first well-known drawings, including studies in charcoal and graphite, later followed by abstract watercolors and monochrome oil paintings. Thek first referred to himself as Paul Thek starting in 1955. In 1957 Thek exhibited his works for the first time in a Miami gallery.
After his return to New York in 1959, his artistic circle of friends included photographer Peter Hujar, as well as Joe Raffaele, artist Eva Hesse and Ann Wilson, in addition to Gene Swenson and Susan Sontag. From 1959 until 1962, Thek worked as a textile designer for Prince Studios in New York. During the years between 1962 and 1964, Thek lived and worked in Rome, until his return to New York in 1964. In 1964, he participated in Screen Test by Andy Warhol. His works from 1966 were produced by casting parts from his own body. From the late 1960s and onward, Thek aroused interest with his processual and situation-oriented installations and environments.
During the 1970s, Thek lived in Italy, where he created many works in conjunction with friend and photographer Peter Hujar. In 1976, Thek returned to New York once again. Having lost what prestige he had accumulated in the American art scene of the 1960s, he spent his remaining days washing floors and bagging groceries, however creating art all along. On August 10, 1988, Thek, weakened by HIV/AIDS, died of illness. Susan Sontag dedicated her classic and influential 1966 collection of critical essays, Against Interpretation, which took up with the latest developments in European critical thought—notably that of Roland Barthes—and her later AIDS and its Metaphors to Thek's memory.
In late 2010 the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited Diver, A Retrospective. Maxwell Heller, in The Brooklyn Rail, describes the show: "On one hand, Thek made a point of working with ephemeral materials like newspaper, wax, unfired clay, and vegetation, building delicate, site-specific installations that he abused and neglected until little remained but the taxidermied birds and severed fingers now on display. Yet, on the other hand, he built the airtight Plexiglas sculptures we see here, reliquaries where his body parts are displayed like sacred objects."
- 1971: Pyramid/A Work in Progress, Moderna Museet, Stockholm
- 1988: Selected Works 1987-1988, Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York
- 1995: Paul Thek. The Wonderful World that Almost Was, Witte de With, Rotterdam; 1996, and Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Fundació Antoni Tapies, Barcelona und Kunsthalle Zürich
- 1997: Paul Thek in St.Peter, Kolumba, Köln
- 2005: Paul Thek 1973/2005 Exemplary Presentation, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Luzern
- 2007: Paul Thek, Werkschau im Kontext zeitgenössischer Kunst, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe; and 2008 Collection Falckenberg, Hamburg; 2009 Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid
- 2010: Paul Thek: Diver, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 2010 - January 2011; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, February 2011 - May 2011; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, May 2011 - September 2011
- 2012: Art is Liturgy. Paul Thek and the Others, Kolumba (Museum), September 2012 - August 2013, Cologne
- 2012/13: Paul Thek in Process, LehmbruckMuseum Duisburg, April 2012 - July 2012; Kunstmuseum Luzern, August 2012 - November 2012; Moderna Museet Stockholm, March 2013
- Marietta Franke: Work in Progress - Art is Liturgy. Das historisch-prozessuale und betrachterbezogene Ausstellungskonzept von Paul Thek. Lang, Frankfurt 1993, ISBN 978-3-631-45928-7.
- Philipp Wittmann: Paul Thek – Vom Frühwerk zu den "Technologischen Reliquiaren". Klaus Bielefeld Verlag, Friedland 2004, ISBN 978-3-8983-3061-9.
- Paul Thek (Author), Margrit Brehm (ed.), Axel Heil (ed.), Roberto Ohrt (ed.): Tales the Tortoise Taught Us.. König, Cologne 2008, ISBN 978-3-8656-0389-0.
- Harald Falckenberg, Peter Weibel (ed.): Paul Thek - Artist's Artist. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2009, ISBN 978-0-2620-1254-6.
- Susanne Neubauer: Paul Thek Reproduced. 1969-1977. Dokumentation, Publikation und Historisierung räumlicher ephemerer Kunstwerke. Silke Schreiber, München 2011, ISBN 978-3-88960-126-1.
- Collection catalogue Kolumba, Cologne (Museum): Paul Thek. Shrine (KOLUMBA vol. Band 38), ed. by Stefan Kraus, Ulrike Surmann, Marc Steinmann and Barbara von Flüe, with texts by Joachim M. Plotzek, Dirk Teuber, Michael Nickel, Friedhelm Mennekes, Jean-Christophe Ammann, Susanne Neubauer and Katharina Winnekes, Druckhaus Duisburg OMD 2012, ISBN 978-3-9813182-7-2 (German and English edition).
- Susanne Neubauer: Paul Thek in Process. JRP Ringier, Zürich 2012, ISBN 978-3-03764-253-5
- During 1967 Paul Thek's exhibition at the Pace Gallery in New York City called Death of a Hippie, , predicted the hyperrealist sculptural movement.
- Lamm, April Elizabeth, "Paul Thek", Frieze Magazine, 115 (May 2008). http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/paul_thek2/
- Holland Cotter, Believing Is Seeing (Or, the Meat Of the Matter), retrospective exhibition review, NY Times, Oct. 21, 2010
- “Out-There Man,” Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, November 1, 2010, p. 116
- Heller, Maxwell (February 2011). "Paul Thek: Diver". The Brooklyn Rail.