The artist Paul Thek burst onto the art scene in the 1960’s and enjoyed fame in the US and Europe for years but was largely forgotten by the time of his death in 1988. His life and his work are being revived by the Carnegie Museum of Art with the Exhibition ‘Paul Thek: Diver’ which opens Saturday. The show gets its name from a painting done on newspaper of a man diving into a body of water. (See left) Co-curator and Carnegie Museum of Art Director Lynn Zelevansky says Thek was drawn to the water and often used water in his works. Zelevansky says the diver work stood out to her and co-curator Elisabeth Sussman of the Whitney museum in New York. “Throughout the show you will see different figures who are surrogates for Thek himself,” says Zelevansky, “The diver seems to Elisabeth and me to be a great symbol for who Thek was and what he was interested in and what he cared about.” She says the idea of going deeper in a fearless way was something to which he aspired.
The first thing a visitors sees is a room filled with Thek’s “meat” works. (right) Thek (pronounced Tek) created sculptures of realistic looking hunks of meat and severed human body parts but then gave many of them a surreal twist including metallic coverings, sprouts of grotesque hair and over sized flies. Most are mounted in plastic cases but one is mounted in a Brillo box given to him by Andy Warhol. “The story goes that he said to Warhol, ‘your Brillo boxes are really nice but they could use some meat’,” says Zelevansky. Thek was known to use his work to take shots at minimalism and pop art.
Part way through his career Thek fell in love with installation work. Only a few components of the installations remain but Zelevansky was able to find pictures of the installations and some video of Thek and his collaborators working on the pieces. The Exhibition also includes pages from Thek’s voluminous journals. (lower left)
By the mid 1980’s Thek had driven away most of his friends and in 1987 he was diagnosed with AIDS but he continued to work. The retrospective recreates Thek’s last show.
Zelevansky has been working on the show for more than five years. She says it is the realization of Thek’s dream to have a retrospective mounted in the US. The retrospective of Thek’s work will be on display through May before moving on to Los Angles. Throughout the run of the show, the museum will offer a long list of programs. Most of them are free. Cell phone tours of the show are also available.
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