Palazzo Monti, the artist’s residency in the heart of Brescia, presents “Ghostwriting Paul Thek: Time Capsules and Reliquaries,” a new travelling exhibition of works by Italian artist Alessandro Di Pietro, curated by Peter Benson Miller and Cornelia Mattiacci. It consists of a series of three new sculptures, a new painting, and an accompanying film by Alessandro Di Pietro in dialogue with the work of the artist Paul Thek (1933-1988). During a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, Di Pietro began exploring an imagined history in which Thek did not die prematurely, continuing the late artist’s practice posthumously. We interviewed the artist Di Pietro and Palazzo Monti’s founder, Edoardo Monti, to learn more about the show.
C41: To start with, why Paul Thek?
Alessandro Di Pietro: Paul Thek is an Artists’ Artist, a fish out of water, a Christological figure, a hybrid creature. He was an artist who invented the alphabet of contemporary art, never associating it with just a single meaning: he sowed, then burnt the plant before it became a tree. Furthermore, the theory around Thek-artist and person is always produced by “Authors”. I first studied it thanks to Mike Kelley and Chris Krauss.
C41: How does it feel to work so closely with someone who isn’t there? The process you went through seems to be an incredibly intimate and deep one. You call it a dialogue, but what are you dialoguing with
ADP: Dialogue is a formal word I use to declare that I have “talked” to the other artists. It’s not a real dialogue, I think I’ve tried to activate a process of returning some works to the American artist Paul Thek (1932–1988) internally by following some rules of speculative narration through the study of his poetics and his biography. I tried to impersonate Paul Thek, working as a ghostwriter, thinking about potential derivations or developments of his artistic practice, for example in 1969 or post-mortem in 1998 or 2017, in a plausible temporal dimension thanks to the studies made in recent years and a real dialogue in this case with various figures who love his work.
C41: Talk us through your works on show, in your own words; what are we looking at?
ADP: First of all, the exhibition at the Watermill Center was fundamental for this discourse of attribution of unpublished works by Paul Thek to be made official and in dialogue thanks to Robert Wilson, executor of the summer of George Paul Thek and the curator Noah Koshbin who manages the archive. The works presented at the Watermill Center are 3 plus a video-document entitled Race of a Hippie.
The first work is title “TO WONG”, a film reel classified and sealed within two bronze shields resembling a III century funeral shield on who at the MET in New York. The movie is developed on 16mm film and it can be seen from the side of the sculpture, yet no one knows what film it is: to find out, you have to destroy the seal of the work of art. Like a time capsule, perhaps it is destined to be opened by one universal “Mr Wong”, perhaps Joshua, leader of the Hong Kong riots.
Br’Er Rabbit represents a human arm dressed as a rabbit mascot. It is a work of pure violence attributed to Paul Thek in 1998, the year in which Bugs Life and Man in Black were released. Cinematic prosthetic art has now put silicone into a new standard for the construction of props. This work is in fact a hyper-realistic work and was produced almost 30 years after his most famous series of “Technological Reliquaries”, wax works kept in a case that is part of the work.
Br’Er Rabbit is a big white man dressed as a “good rabbit”, reminiscent of Disney’s tales, who this time is not saved, as in the cartoon “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby”, but finally gets killed. He could also be a “Furry” cosplayer unjustly killed. Anyway, the man is dead and what remains of him rests on a base similar to the asphalt of the road. The year of attribution of the work (1998) functions as premonitory year of the violent street riots of 1999 in Seattle.
Televisione/Collaborazione is a small photographically printed emulsified canvas, the year of attribution is 1969. It seems to be a four-handed work with Mario Schifano. The canvas presents a television screen photographed while showcasing a film with mushrooms, it looks like the movie MATANGO (Hishiro Honda, 1963) . The photogram is painted pink by Thek or by Schifano, the latter in 1969, starting the TV landscapes while Paul Thek collaborated with Edwin Klein in a work-book entitled “A document made by Paul Thek and Edwin Klein”. If in 1940 Disney makes the amanita muscaria dance in Fantasia, in 1945 Hiroshima happens and the images of the atomic mushroom on video are a collective hallucination. The psychedelic climate of the late 60s makes mushrooms on TV a new still life.
C41: Apart from Paul Thek, what’s your relationship with the giants of the past and with the history of art, in general?
ADP: I believe there are no giants of the past but astonishing artists, a dominant historiographical system that remembers or forgets according to the social and political movements of the time. I discovered Thek almost as an underground artist, despite having a resume that would have made many of his peers jealous.
C41: Now that it has happened, how do you think you’ve contributed to Paul Thek’s journey?
ADP: When I thought about starting this project I thought it was something that any artist could intimately wish: that another artist could contribute to the true eternity of his work and person.
C41: The work you’ve created shapes an interesting new dimension of time; you work with the past, present and future, all at once, in a sense. How would you define it and in what “time dimension” do you operate in?
ADP: Such as to hypothesise that these works will be attributed to Thek in a future in which art will be truly different, in which the reference systems with which we judge and archive art will be different or even no longer exist. The public of these works hasn’t been born yet, that’s how I drew Ghostwriting Paul Thek Time Capsules and Reliquaries.
C41: This feels like more than a mere exhibition, it’s a journey. How did it all begin and how have you met Alessandro? Talk us through the process of winning the 11th edition of the Italian Council grant (congratulations btw).
Edoardo Monti: I met Alessandro soon after I moved back to Italy from NYC, in 2018. I was deep diving into Milan’s artist scene and a mutual friend suggested to meet up with Alessandro. I fell in love with his practice at the very first studio visit, and we became friends since then. In 2021 we unsuccessfully applied to the Italian Council grant, but we felt the project was worth giving it a second try, so we worked hard on perfectioning the proposal for the 2022 edition, and we got in! It’s a very prestigious award, only a handful of museums and cultural projects get accepted every year—it’s an honour and a recognition of both Alessandro and our work at Palazzo Monti. The project is literally a journey: across bureaucracy, across artisanal production, across the lives of two artists that lived in two different centuries and across the world. At the end of the year-long tenure, the show will have travelled two continents, three countries, 7 cities: from the Watermill Center in NYC to CAN in Neuchâtel (Switzerland), from Turin to Naples via Rome.
C41: What strikes you about Alessandro’s practice and how does it fit within Palazzo Monti’s program and ethos?
EM: There is fine, elegant line that connects all the works made by Alessandro: his research based on linguistic structures and cinematographic grammars. He masterfully works with both bronze sculptures and pencil drawings, large scale installations and small, delicate engravings. His practice is fresh to my eyes and mind, which is the quality that always attracts me, whether I am selecting artists for the residency project or considering a private acquisition. His show, due to open on November 25th at Palazzo Monti in Brescia, perfectly stages hybrid environments, adopting methodologies that generate new narratives and production strategies—the dream definition to fit our program seamlessly!