…(Thek’s nomadic existence later included periods living in Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome, in addition to New York, where he always kept his studio on East 3rd Street. He frequently retreated to the secluded island of Ponza, off Italy, and to Oakleyville, a remote section of Fire Island.) After returning to New York in 1959, his circle included, in addition to [Peter] Hujar and Raffaele, the artists Eva Hesse and Ann Wilson, the critic Gene Swenson, and the writer Susan Sontag, who became his great friend. Sontag later dedicated to Thek the American edition of her landmark book of essays Against Interpretation (1966). The relationship between Thek and Hujar developed into one of the most important in both their lives. They spent the summer of 1963 in Sicily and visited the Capuchin catacombs near Palermo, where Hujar took unforgettable photographs, and where the rows of human remains in glass boxes had a profound impact on Thek’s work.
Paul Thek And His Circle In The 1950s April 12 - July 7, 2013 Co-curated by Jonathan David Katz and Peter Harvey
Opening reception: Friday, April 12, 2013, 6 to 8 pm
(New York, January 11, 2013) On April 12, 2013, the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art will open a groundbreaking new exhibition: Paul Thek And His Circle In The 1950s, which for the first time, examines the iconic American artist as a young man, placing him within a group of friends and lovers that provided an adoring audience and creative influence for his earliest works. The exhibition will cover the period of this artist’s work from 1954 to 1964, presenting a rare insight into the world of Paul Thek, not previously explored in any other major exhibition of his work.
The exhibit is co-curated by the internationally renowned expert on gay art, Jonathan David Katz, and by the notable set designer Peter Harvey, with whom Paul Thek had an early romantic relationship and a life-long friendship.
While Paul Thek became both famous and infamous in the mid-to-late 1960s for his “Meat Pieces” (handmade slabs of realistic-looking flesh encased in plastic), the work created by Thek earlier in his career revealed a very different artist: a precociously sensitive draftsman who captured his lover asleep naked, making work that was both openly gay and often manifestly erotic.
Thek’s circle was comprised of other gay artists and cultural figures, many of who would develop into familiar, iconic, artists as well, including the photographer Peter Hujar and the painter Joseph Raffael. Besides work by Hujar and Raffael, the exhibition will include work by other artists from his circle including Wilber Pippin, Theodore Newman, Peter Harvey and Paul Fisher. All were in their early 20s when they met and over time their relationships ranged from friendships to love affairs and settled back into friendships. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the circle of gay artists around Thek was how often and explicitly they represented, influenced, referenced, and otherwise engaged one another in their works: Hujar photographed Thek and Raffael, Thek drew Harvey, and in turn Harvey’s theatrical designs influenced Thek’s subsequent installation art.
The exhibition presents work created in the mid-1950s when the Lavender Scare was underway and homosexuality was repeatedly and publicly demonized. Despite the threat, this group of openly gay artists unabashedly connected their work and their sexuality, seemingly unconcerned with how blatantly gay work would be received or influence their professional reputations. None of these men ever made even the slightest attempt at the time to obscure their homosexuality.
This exhibition argues that it was this early circle of friends and lovers that created the defining audience for their works, setting them on the path to become the artists they subsequently became. By extension, this exhibition argues for the enabling power of a culture of same sex desire for the development of Thek’s much American art.
Paul Thek And His Circle In The 1950s will be on exhibit at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 26 Wooster Street, New York, NY from April 12, 2013 to July 7, 2013. An opening reception will be held on April 12, 2013 from 6 to 8 pm at the museum.
Photo: Peter Hujar - Paul Thek, Nude, Astride Zebra