Tag Archive | Paul Thek

Modern Art Monday Presents: Paul Thek, Hippopotamus Poison

Hippopotamus Poison
All Photos By Gail

Hippopotamus Poison (1965) belongs to a series of Technological Reliquaries, which Paul Thek (1933 – 1988), began in New York after a summer spent in Sicily. The work engages the Roman Catholic tradition of venerating saintly bodies that Thek had observed first-hand in the catacombs near Palermo, and simultaneously offers a critique of the art of the time, Pop and Minimalism in particular.

Hippopotamus Poison Side View

Within a visually seductive display case made from colored Plexiglas sits what appears to be slab of rotten meat, realistically rendered in wax.

Hippopotamus Poison Quote

Inscribed on the vitrine is a paranoid quote that nods to a generation’s underlying fears. “The world was falling apart, anyone could see it,” Thek has explained. “I was a wreck, the block was a wreck, the city was a wreck; and I’d go into a gallery and there would be a lot fancy people looking at a lot of stuff that didn’t say anything about anything to anyone.”

Hippopotamus Poison Side View Front

Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

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Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective At NYC’s Whitney Museum

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.” Paul Thek died of AIDS at just 54 years of age ­–  way too soon to go. With loans of work never before seen in the US, Diver is intended to introduce his art to a broader American audience. Having just seen this exhibit, my reccommendation is to go while you can!

Paul Thek: Diver, Runs Through January 9, 2011 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Madison Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets in NYC.  

Paul Thek, Untitled (Hand with Ring)