The 2011 Hogue-Sponenburgh Art Lecture Series
Paul Thek: Notes from the Underground
George Baker, Associate Professor of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles
Monday, Nov. 7, 2011 7:30 p.m.
College of Law
Paulus Lecture Hall, E-201
245 Winter St. SE
Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center, Willamette University
Free and open to the public
Hogue-Sponenburgh Lecture by George Baker, Associate Professor of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles
A leading art critic and a prolific historian of modern and contemporary art, George Baker has taught art history and theory at UCLA since 2003. Baker is the author of the groundbreaking text, The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris (MIT Press, 2007), and several other books including James Coleman: Drei Filmarbeiten (Sprengel Museum, 2002), and Gerard Byrne: Books, Magazines, and Newspapers(Lukas & Sternberg, 2003). A New York and Paris-based writer forArtforum magazine throughout the 1990s, he also works as an editor of the journal October and its publishing imprint October Books. Baker has published important essays on a variety of postmodern and contemporary artists including Robert Smithson, Robert Whitman, Anthony McCall, Louise Lawler, Andrea Fraser, Christian Philipp Müller, Mike Kelley and Knut Åsdam. Currently, he is working on a small book about the work of four women artists — Zoe Leonard, Tacita Dean, Moyra Davey and Sharon Lockhart — to be entitled Lateness and Longing: On the Afterlife of Photography. The latter is part of a larger project that Baker has termed “photography’s expanded field,” detailing the fate of photography and film works in contemporary cultural production.
Focus of Baker’s lecture
Baker’s lecture will focus on the challenging and vivid work of influential contemporary artist Paul Thek (1933–88). Drawing from his catalog essay for the recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective,” Baker identifies several key themes in Thek’s approach to art. Baker attempts to account for Thek’s unique contribution as a painter late in his life by turning back and looking at the logic of his larger body of work as a whole, identifying a new, disruptive notion of the “underground” to name not only the social space in which Thek worked, but also the key formal devices he developed.
The Whitney exhibition marked the first retrospective in the U.S. devoted to Thek, who was a sculptor, painter and one of the key artists to create large-scale environments and installations.
Thek initially gained notoriety in New York during the 1960s with a series of sculptures called “meat pieces,” which were flesh-like constructions encased in Plexiglas boxes reminiscent of Minimal sculptures. He experimented with the creation of remarkable immersive environments that combined themes of religion, theater and literature. Through his use of perishable and fragile materials, Thek highlights the ephemerality of both art and life. According to Baker, Thek is above all an artist of “intensity,” a state which, as described by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, “includes the unequal in itself.”
Additional lectures by George Baker
Will be at the University of Oregon Department of Art in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 and at the University of Oregon Department of Art in Eugene on Thursday,Nov. 10, 2011. The lectures in Portland and Eugene are part of the Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art series sponsored by The Ford Family Foundation’s Visual Arts Program in partnership with the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts.
Peter Hujar, formal portrait of Thek (5), 1967
Paul Thek, Untitled (Dwarf), (detail), 1969–70, Gouache on newspaper, 22 5/8 x 16 5/16”, Kolumba, Cologne