09 December 2007

Paul Thek Project

(Thank you Ron Jones for this tip!)

This site is dedicated to the installation work of Paul Thek. It is an ongoing project to collect and contextualize documentary photography and other relevant sources around Paul Thek’s environments.

Various complex questions underlay the consideration and analysis of Paul Thek’s installation work, above all matters of authorship and reconstruction. Many of his installation works cannot simply be reconstructed as in its physical and ideal presence it was inextricably bound up with the artist, the co-operative and, above all, time. From a museological point of view the task to find a final home for the relics and to free them, at least temporarily, from their existence as mere inventory numbers in order to attribute them a function in the context of art mediation thus becomes all the more challenging.

From an art historical point of view other methods come up in order to collect and contextualize information which is the more important the less Thek’s environments can be brought back to life again. From a frank interest to bring to light what was hidden for so long, this website serves not only as a prototype for media-based art historical research, but also as a tool to contextualize Thek’s process oriented use of the mythological object.


Paul Thek at ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art

Paul Thek (1933–1988) is considered an artist with cult status. The hitherto most comprehensive retrospective of his oeuvre focused on the phenomenal effect of his work on contemporary art and established Thek's historical significance, from legendary outsider to the founder and center of an art movement. It has been possible to bring together more than 300 of Thek’s works, which are largely in private ownership and therefore only seldom publicly shown.

In their anti-heroic diversity and multimediality, and with their references to art, literature, and religion, his works (painting, photography, video, sculpture, and extensive environments) are among the central sources for the revolt and eruption of art in the 1960s. It is mainly for this reason that one of the early theoretical masterpieces of this epoch, Susan Sontag's »Against Interpretation« (1962), was dedicated to him. The mold castings, also those of his own body parts, wax replicas of human tissue, hair, teeth, and bones in Plexiglas cases, which he produced between 1964 and 1967 as »Technological Reliquaries,« in their mixture of desire and repulsion, decay and pathos, held up the truth of the body to the world of commodities and the transfiguration of the everyday, as well as the idealization and dramatization of corporative minimal art. With this, Thek influenced not only contemporaries such as Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman, but also present-day artists. His obsessive, often mystical content, which made him the founder of Abject Art and Environments, or Ensembles, was presented in a formal way that opened the path for the mixture of studio situation and total spatial design, of private and general icons, of profane and religious objects, of everyday and myth, of damaged objects to fragmentary piles of found materials, as was continued by artists from Anna Oppermann through to Thomas Hirschhorn.


ARCHITECTURE REVIEW; Rem Koolhaas's New York State of Mind

Published: November 4, 1994
On a certain level, these buildings are about coping. Mr. Riley writes in the exhibition brochure that Mr. Koolhaas and O.M.A "perceive the city as a survivor." Survivors are not victims. They have earned the right to set their own terms. Cities shouldn't be competing with the suburbs by trying to become more like them. They don't have to turn themselves into theme parks. They have better things to do than indulge the fear that their best days are behind them by encouraging architects to design new buildings that look old.

Mr. Koolhaas is undoubtedly right to question current urban shibboleths. But are the terms he proposes the right ones for the city today? Essentially, Mr. Koolhaas asks us to believe that spectacular public buildings, or spectacular groupings of them, contribute at least as much to the vitality of the city as do the systematic designs of urban planners. Those who crave urban life, he insists, want something more than safe, clean streets, trains that run and contextual design guidelines for new development. They're looking to be part of a legend in the making. Just as it is the business of music, film and physics to produce spectacular singers, directors and theorists, so it is the job of the city to produce wonderful, fabulous places: buildings we'd walk blocks out of our way to see.


30 November 2007

Paul Thek Untitled (Tower of Babel) 1975/92

etching on handmade Twinrocker paper
10 x 7 3/4 in / 25.5 x 20 cm

Trouble in paradise

Epic slaughters, the fate of the planet, the closeness of calamity - Anselm Kiefer's desolate landscapes address the most crucial issues of our times. Contemporary art doesn't get much better than this, argues Simon Schama.

...Kiefer's painting, then, is not a representation of some feature of creation so much as a re-enactment of it. And if this sounds a mite up itself, well indeed it is, and none the worse for it. Even if you care not a toss for the esoterica, the richness of classical allusion (such as the catastrophic landscape of the fall of Troy, scarred with explosions of carbon and cobalt, and transmitted via a telephonic connection from Greek peak to peak in mimicry of Agamemnon's beacon signals to faithless Clytemnestra), you can still happily envelop yourself in the blanket of colour and line that fill every centimetre of Kiefer's pictures.


Peter Eisenman on "The End of the Classical"

What can be the model for architecture when the essence of what was effective in the classical model -- the presumed rational value of structures, representations, methodologies of origin and ends and deductive processes -- have been shown to be delusory?

What is being proposed is an expansion beyond the limitation presented by the classical model to the realization of architecture as an independent discourse, free from external values -- classical or any other; that is, the intersection of the meaning- free, the arbitrary, and the timeless in the artificial.

Peter Eisenman, "The End of the Classical"
Perspecta 21, (1984):166

Tower of Babel (ancient Bablylon)

"AND the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel..."

Genesis XI

Inscription of King Nebuchadnezzar on Tower of Babel (Borsippa).

I have completed its magnificence with silver, gold, other metals, stone, enameled bricks, fir and pine.

The first which is the house of the earth’s base,

the most ancient monument of Babylon;

I built and finished it.

I have highly exalted its head with bricks covered with copper.

We say for the other, that is, this edifice, the house of the seven lights of the earth, the most ancient monument of Borsippa.

A former king built it, (they reckon 42 ages) but he did not

complete its head.

Since a remote time, people had abandoned it, without

order expressing their words.

Since that time the earthquake and the thunder had dispersed

the sun-dried clay.

The bricks of the casing had been split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps. Merodach, the great god, excited my mind to repair this building.

I did not change the site nor did I take away the foundation.

In a fortunate month, in an auspicious day,

I undertook to build porticoes around the crude brick masses,

and the casing of burnt bricks.

I adapted the circuits, I put the inscription of my name in the Kitir of the portico.

I set my hand to finish it. And to exalt its head.

As it had been in ancient days, so I exalted its summit.

Inscription of King Nebuchadnezzar on Tower of Babel (Borsippa). Cited in "The Signature of God/The Handwriting of God" by Grant R. Jeffrey (p.40)

A reconstruction of the Etemenanki

Etemenanki (The Tower of Babel)

Etemenanki: name of the large temple tower in Babylon, also known as the Tower of Babel. Its Sumerian name E-temen-an-ki means "House of the foundation of heaven on earth".

The story of the Tower of Babel, found in the Biblical book of Genesis, is one of the most famous and beloved legends of mankind.

The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Šin'âr, and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men built. And the Lord said, "Behold, the people are one and they have all one language, and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them which they have imagined to do. Come, let Us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off building the city.
Therefore is the name of it called Bâbel (that is "Confusion") because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
[Genesis 11.1-9; tr. King James 21st Century]


The Tower of Babel (according to Herodotus)

The temple of Bêl, the Babylonian Zeus [...] was still in existence in my time. It has a solid central tower, one stadium square, with a second erected on top of it and then a third, and so on up to eight. All eight towers can be climbed by a spiral way running round the outside, and about half way up there are seats for those who make the ascent to rest on. On the summit of the topmost tower stands a great temple with a fine large couch in it, richly covered, and a golden table beside it. The shrine contains no image, and no one spends the night there except (if we may believe that Chaldaeans who are the priests of Bêl) one Babylonian woman, all alone, whoever it may be that the god has chosen. The Chaldaeans also say -though I do not believe them- that the god enters the temple in person and takes his rest upon the bed.

[Herodotus, Histories 1.181-2; tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt]

14 February 2007

Critic Joan Acocella considers the gifts of artistic genius

Part of what makes Acocella so persuasive is her gift for narrative. The best of these essays tell stories that are rich with insight, observation and the drama of artists transcending their limitations. "I try to describe with love what I love," Acocella explains. "My secret ambition is to pierce through the veil: think about a work and then not just describe it but arrive at something, an underlying principal or an underlying emotion and then say what the work's true value and beauty really is."