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On Exhibit: Divers and Dwarves


By Mary Daily

Published Apr 1, 2011 8:00 AM

The Hammer Museum presents a retrospective of the work of a legendary American artist, including some objects never before seen in the United States.


Photo courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

Paul Thek (1933-1988) came to recognition in the '60s with his sculpture in New York galleries. His most famous work, The Tomb, opened at a solo show in 1967 and included a mannequin with a face and hands cast in wax from his own body. That work vanished in the 1980s, but elements of it will be on view at the Hammer, as will photographs of Thek creating it.

In 1967, the artist left for Europe, where he built extraordinary environments, drawing on religious processions, the theater as tableau and the common experiences of everyday life. Much of this work is lost, but important elements of it, never before exhibited in the United States, are included in the Hammer show, along with vintage photographs and a film.

In 1976, Thek returned to New York and began to exhibit small drawings and paintings in galleries there and in Paris. In 1985, he was chosen to represent the U.S. at the Bienal de Sao Paulo. He died in 1988 of complications from AIDS.

Paul Thek: Diver
May 22-Sept. 4, 2011. Hammer Museum.

For more information, call (310) 443-7000 or visit the Hammer online.

The title of the Hammer exhibition, Diver, refers to the paintings Thek made from 1969 to 1970 using graphite, ink, watercolor and newspaper, on the island of Ponza. On view will be celestial blue images of swimmers and divers, as well as early newspaper paintings populated with pipe-smoking dwarves.

The show, which includes about 130 objects, was organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Visitors will also see Thek's journals, filled with personal thoughts accompanied by drawings, from simple sketches to portraits, cityscapes, seascapes and images of the earth, fruit and fish.