The retrospective exhibition of American artist Paul Thek (1933-1988), and the accompanying monograph, functioned as a sequel to Witte de With’s Hélio Oiticica retrospective held in 1992. As the oeuvres of Thek and Oiticica had long been underestimated or generalized, both retrospectives significantly contributed to a more complete understanding of contemporary art history. The work of both artists was not only representative of the art of their times; their influence can be traced in the environments and process-oriented work of artists today.

In the early sixties, Thek pioneered a representation of human identity trapped in the labyrinths of spirituality, sexuality and technologi-cal progress. His Technological Reliquaries – realistic lumps of flesh and body parts, modeled in wax and cased in plexiglas boxes – were painful modern images of vanity. In the late sixties and early seventies, while traveling through Europe, Thek started creating temporary environments. He called them “processions”, referring to the ritual character of creating and experiencing them. Thek made the environments in collaboration with a group of artists, known as the Artists’ Co-op. The environments were not so much finished works of art as “stills” from a working process, which had to stop simply because the exhibition had to open. The “processions” were centered on the themes of birth, death and rebirth, and were full of references to Christian symbolism as well as mythology, local folklore, literature and everyday life. Ideally, they took place around the principal Christian festivals of Easter and Christmas. The public was invited to file in ritual fashion past the various tableaus in the environments, and to take part in the highly individual alternative to everyday reality which Thek presented. The paintings and drawings Thek made in the seventies and eighties were a more personal means of expression than his work with the Artists’ Co-op, charged with the same individual symbolism.

The exhibition, which presented the first complete survey of Thek’s work, included a selection of the Technological Reliquaries (1964-67), reconstructions of the environment The Procession/The Artist’s Co-op (1969) and of the installation Small Paintings (1980), bronzes from the series The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper (1973-76), a vast selection of paintings and drawings on newspaper, as well as documents, such as the artist’s notebooks, photographs, films and videotapes.

The exhibition traveled to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, the Kunsthalle Zürich and the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich, and the MAC, galeries contemporaines des Musées de Marseille in Marseilles.