Relinquishing Fame and Praise, Uncompromising Artists Embrace the Audacious
A sculptor, painter, and one of the first installation artists, Paul Thek is best known for his installation piece The Tomb—Death of a Hippie (1967), which consisted of a full-size cast of his body laid out inside a pink wooden pyramid, and which is now long-lost. Inspired by the catacombs in Sicily, which Thek visited during a nine-year-stint in Europe, he made the Technological Reliquaries (1964–67), beeswax renderings of meat and amputated limbs contained within Formica and Plexiglas containers, which pointed to the Vietnam War while also poking fun at Minimalism and Pop. He also painted small, quick paintings of seascapes and cityscapes seen from his tenement windows, as well as surrealistic images and near-abstractions. Thek knew Eva Hesse, Peter Hujar, and Susan Sontag—who dedicated two books to him; he spoke of Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg, and Robert Rauschenberg as influences on his practice. His reputation has grown exponentially in the U.S. since his untimely death in 1988 from AIDS, and his influence has been acknowledged by figures such as Robert Gober and Mike Kelley.
American, 1933-1988, Brooklyn, New York