American sculptor, painter, draughtsman and installation artist. He studied briefly at the Art Students’ League and the Pratt Institute; both in New York, in 1950, and at the Cooper Union, New York, from 1951 to 1954. After his student years, he moved to Miami where he had several odd jobs. He also visited Europe, especially Italy, in the years 1962 to 1964. He returned in 1964 to New York, where he made his series Technological Reliquaries (1964–5; see 1995 exh. cat., pp. 44–53), a series of life-like sculptures of flesh, shown inside perspex boxes, sometimes with their own carrying cases. These were followed by his iconic sculpture The Tomb (1967, see 1995 exh. cat., p. 70), a pyramid inside of which there lay a suited body cast of himself, surrounded by empty notebooks and chalices. The larger-than-life figure had its tongue sticking out and its fingers cut off, a guesture Thek related to the artist’s sacrificial position in society, and also to Jasper Johns’s paintings with plaster casts. Thek then took to collaborating with other artists to create poetic installations that were not only visual constructions, but also spatial and symbolic experiences for the viewer, such as Ark, Pyramid (exh. Kassel, Documenta, 1972; see 1995 exh. cat., pp. 78–9). This extraordinary installation used tons of sand spread across the installation space, stuffed animals, Thek’s body-cast from The Tomb left inside its packing case surrounded by onions, and a giant pyramid constructed from newspaper. Thek’s work was never fully integrated into the American art world, and from 1967 he spent much of his working life in Italy or Holland. He returned to New York in 1977, but he seemed to suffer from a loss of confidence in his later installations, such as Missiles and Bunnies (exh. Washington, DC, Hirshhorn, 1984; see 1995 exh. cat., pp. 132–3) and Noah’s Raft (exh. São Paulo, Bienal, 1985; see 1995 exh. cat., pp. 134–5), judging from their lack of focus or vision. After his death from AIDS-related diseases in his work has became extremely influential on many artists making informal installations, such as Mike Kelley, who was much affected by his working practice and by his use of personal, often idiosyncratic narrative. The morbid subject-matter and rather clinical presentation of his early Technological Reliquaries also anticipated by nearly three decades sculptures by Damien Hirst on themes of mortality.
From Grove Art Online
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