PRINT January 2011


Paul Thek, Untitled (Dwarf Parade Table), 1969, wood, plaster, eggs, photographs, drawings, plastic, ceramic plates, glass, metal, gum, latex, paint, taxidermic dog, fabric, chairs, 34 1/2 x 92 1/2 x 29 3/4". Installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.


DEATH HANGS HEAVY over Paul Thek’s oeuvre, from the morbidity of the early reliquaries to the stillness of the late seascapes. It was present long before Thek was diagnosed with aids. Almost always it is coupled with a sense of religiosity that, for better and worse, comes with imperatives utterly different from those of career, consistency, and well-being. Something similar drove Robert Smithson’s early work, but Smithson was able not only to bring this to bear on the framework of the art world but also to transpose it into a systematic aesthetic. Thek’s art, on the other hand, resists outright comprehension. His retrospective at the Whitney Museum opens with wall text that is an extract from his brilliant “Teaching Notes: 4-Dimensional Design”: “Design something to sell on the street corner. Design something to sell to the government. Design something to put on an

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