PRINT January 2011


Paul Thek, Untitled, 1966, wax, paint, polyester resin, nylon microfilament, wire, plaster, plywood, melamine laminate, rhodium-plated bronze, Plexiglas, 14 x 15 x 7 1/2". From the series “Technological Reliquaries,” 1964–67.


WHEN I WOULD visit Paul’s place on East Third Street, I’d consider how similar our studios were. We both worked in this incredible density of materials—you were walking through what you were seeing, what was being built and evolved. The richness, the complexity that other people would call “messy” was all vivid potentiality for us . . . a vibrant gestalt.

We would find and gather materials in the street and then call each other with the amazement of these chance discoveries. Once, I dreamed I had to have lengths and lengths of blue velvet cord; the next morning, in front of my studio, there was a box replete with them. And that would happen to Paul as well: in the good old days when trash was always available, as if there were gifts waiting at all times.

I MET PAUL in 1964, the same year I did my performance Meat Joy and he began his Meat Pieces, sculptural embodiments of flesh and rot. So you could say there was a veritable “meat energy” happening between us. Our works were volatile—they really started to flow into and fluster even the radical traditions in art and theater surrounding us. We were about visceral kinetics, getting to the innards, getting the inside out. And Ann Wilson, who performed in Meat Joy distributing—or dumping—the chicken, raw mackerel, and sausages, then went on to work with Paul.

Paul, as well, explored taboo physicality. He would mold or enfold parts of his body, putting stress on it, sculpturally containing and constraining it. Paul’s work held an undertow of energy; mine was more of a waveform—expansive or explosive, while he was going within, to the corpse, to the blood and bones.

We both had a lonely, isolated sense of what I called visceral plasticity. We wanted sensuousness in materials. Things that others considered to be obscene were sacred to us; we talked of the “religiosity” of our sources.

Paul was handsome and magical, and yet he was also a dislocated spirit within the ’60s art world. The melancholy aspects of his work directly, uncannily prefigured the AIDS epidemic and that tearing apart of everything we had held on to.

At the Whitney, each gallery substantiated the essence of Paul’s unique visions. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, reverence, and richly conceived installations. Paul would have been thrilled beyond his wildest dreams that the curators did indeed “find a way to grow feathers.”

Carolee Schneemann is an artist based in New York.