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paul thek meat piece


If only we remembered that we are meat and bone, complete with a shelf life, perhaps we would come to see ourselves in everything, and how much more deeply we might live. The Hammer Museum’s exhibit, “Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective” echoes this perspective in its past “meat pieces” collection (1963-1967).

The pieces are realistic sculptures of dismembered corpses––arms, legs, ribs, bones. The "meat sculptures" are made from wire-mesh cores covered in bees wax, colored oil, glass beads and other material––look like just slaughtered meat: marinating, juicy, blood and fat spilling over bone. 


What is especially striking is that Thek's insistence on never clarifying whether the meat is human or animal, whether we are viewing a beautiful cut of beef or a human limb. Perhaps what is most disturbing is that regardless of the answer, the pieces are still beautiful. 


The collection was inspired by Thek’s trip to the catacombs in Sicily. “It delighted me that bodies could be used to decorate a room like flowers,” said Thek in a 1966 interview. Thek confronts the traditional view of the body as burden. We are forced to consider whether our struggle for survival is really as beautiful as the stories we tell ourselves about the meaning of life.


(Image: Whitney Museum of American Art)

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