Tile image for Paul Thek Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), 1966 Wax, bronze, formica, and Plexiglas 16 1/2 x 9 3/8 x 23 1/2 inches 41.9 x 23.8 x 59.7 cm.
“My work is about time. An inevitable impurity from which we all suffer.” 


—Paul Thek

A sculpture by Paul Thek, called Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), dated 1966.

Paul Thek

Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), 1966
Wax, bronze, formica, and Plexiglas
16 1/2 x 9 3/8 x 23 1/2 inches (41.9 x 23.8 x 59.7 cm)

The American artist Paul Thek (1933-1988) rose to prominence as a sculptor in New York in the 1960s and is recognized as one of the first artists to create environments or installations. Following his studies, Thek went on to spend a significant part of his life in Europe after receiving a Fulbright fellowship to travel and study in Italy in 1967. He embraced the complex themes of time and transience, often making ephemeral work. 

Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) (1966) belongs to one of Thek’s most notable bodies of work, the Meat Pieces or Technological Reliquaries (1964–1967), a number of which (including the present work) were featured in the artist’s 2010 retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art. 

A photograph by Peter HujarPaul Thek in the Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, 1963.

Paul Thek in the Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, 1963 (detail). Photo by Peter Hujar. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

Paul Thek in the Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, 1963 (detail). Photo by Peter Hujar. © 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

Thek began the Meat Pieces after a trip to the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy, in 1963. 

“It delighted me that bodies could be used to decorate a room like flowers,” he recalled. “We accept our thingness intellectually, but the emotional acceptance of it can be a joy.”

Meat pieces by Paul Thek, L-R: Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965. Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hippopotamus, 1965. Collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Untitled, 1966. Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York"

Meat pieces by Paul Thek, L-R: Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965. Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Untitled, 1966. Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Meat pieces by Paul Thek, L-R: Untitled (Meat Piece with Flies), 1965. Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Untitled, 1966. Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Paul Thek, Untitled, 1967. Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Paul Thek, Untitled, 1967. Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Paul Thek, Untitled, 1967. Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Throughout his life, Thek was driven by the often conflicting forces of his religion, art, and sexuality. In referencing the physical and spiritual decay of flesh, the Catholic tradition of relics, and an almost sci-fi understanding of human preservation, Thek’s sculptures encompass the most material and sacred forms of the body.

A photo of Paul Thek's Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), dated 1966.

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), 1966 (detail)

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), 1966 (detail)

“The Catholic education . . . of our generation . . . held sway over every instant of our lives. . . . Paul experienced sexuality as an arena of . . . struggle. . . .  Themes of sexuality, flesh, mutilation, and death recur in his work again and again.”


—Ann Wilson

To create these works, the artist first constructed a wire shell onto which he sculpted beeswax. He would then add nylon wires to resemble human hair and layers of Day-glo paint and resin to make the wax forms glisten. The forms created ranged from unidentifiable “meat pieces“ to severed arms or legs, which, starting in 1966, were cast from the artist's own body. By encasing these macabre forms in Plexiglas, Thek challenged the then-dominant aesthetic of minimalism while also alluding to museum display cases.

An installation view of a show titled Paul Thek: Recent Work, Pace Gallery, New York, dated 1966.

Installation view with Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) seen at right, in Paul Thek: Recent Work, Pace Gallery, New York, 1966

Installation view with Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) seen at right, in Paul Thek: Recent Work, Pace Gallery, New York, 1966

“I was amused with the idea of meat under Plexiglas because I thought it made fun of the scene.... Inside the glittery, swanky cases—the ‘Modern Art’ materials that were all the rage at the time, Formica and glass and plastic—was something very unpleasant, very frightening, and looking absolutely real.”


—Paul Thek, 1981

An installation view of a show titled Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, dated 2010.

Installation view with Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) seen at center, in Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2010. Photo by Sheldan C. Collins

Installation view with Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) seen at center, in Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2010. Photo by Sheldan C. Collins

Installation view, Paul Thek: The Wonderful World that Almost Was, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, 1995. Photo by Bob Goedewaagen. Courtesy Kunstinstituut Melly

Installation view with Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) seen at right, in Paul Thek: The Wonderful World that Almost Was, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, 1995. Photo by Bob Goedewaagen. Courtesy Kunstinstituut Melly

Installation view with Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) seen at right, in Paul Thek: The Wonderful World that Almost Was, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, 1995. Photo by Bob Goedewaagen. Courtesy Kunstinstituut Melly

The miniature bronze chair in the center of the sculpture is perhaps a playful reference to conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965), as well as an insistence on the sanctity of the present work’s base “thingness.”

A detail from Paul Thek's Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), dated 1966.

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), 1966 (detail)

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), 1966 (detail)

A photo of Josef Kosuth's One and Three Chairs, made in 1965.

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York

“Thek’s ‘two masters’ were art and God, but even a nonbeliever can feel an ache of recognition in his longing for a chimerical wholeness that remains perpetually out of reach, as if behind glass.” 


—Chloe Wyma, Artforum

An artwork by Paul Thek, titled Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair), dated 1966.
 
 

Consign with David Zwirner

    Read More Read Less

      Read More Read Less

          Inquire

          To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
          This site is also protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

          Inquire

          To learn more about available works, please provide your contact information

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.This site is also
          protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.