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.
Paul Thek (1933-1988) was an American painter and, later, sculptor and installation artist. Born in Brooklyn, he studied locally, at the Art Students League and the Pratt Institute. His work may be seen in numerous collections, including that of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York
Jonathan David Katz (co-curator):
Born in 1958, Katz is an American activist, art historian, educator and writer. Presently, he is the director of the doctoral program in Visual culture studies at State University of New York at Buffalo. He is also the former executive coordinator of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University. He is a former chair of the Department of Lesbian and Gay studies at the City College of San Francisco, and was the first tenured faculty in gay and lesbian studies in the United States. He received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1996. Katz was co-curator with David C. Ward and Jenn Sichel of the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery, the first major museum exploration of the impact of same-sex desire in the creation of modern American portraiture.
Peter Harvey (co-curator):
Born in Guatemala, the same year as Paul Thek, of English parents, Harvey became well known in New York as a theatrical designer. His career reached a new high in 1999 with the recreation of his 1967 production of George Balanchine’s “Jewels” for the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Following this, he totally redesigned Jewels for the NYC Ballet in 2004, and this production remains in the current repertoire — Other highlights of his 30 years in the theater have been the full length Balanchine ballet “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Zurich Opera, the New York and London productions of the breakthrough drama “Boys in the Band” and the hit musical “Dames at Sea”. Harvey’s biography is in “Who’s Who in the Theatre.” He has been honored for designs on television and for the stage, and his designs have toured in exhibitions around the world as well as having been reproduced in publications ranging from textbooks to theater histories. In 2007, he curated StageStruck, an exhibition of collaboration of gay theatre designers, at the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
About the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Best place for gay culture, Time Out New York: New York’s Best 2012
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first and only dedicated LGBT art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve LGBT art, and foster the artists who create it. The Museum has a permanent collection of over 22,000 objects, 6-8 major exhibitions annually, artist talks, film screenings, readings, THE ARCHIVE – a quarterly art newsletter, a membership program, and a research library. The Leslie-Lohman Museum is operated by the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported LGBT artists for over 30 years. The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the LGBT art community by informing, inspiring, entertaining and challenging all who enter its doors.
The Museum is located at 26 Wooster Street, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Admission is free, and hours are 12pm-6pm Tuesday through Sunday. The Museum is closed Monday and all major holidays. The Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation is a non-profit organization and is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)3 of the IRS Code. The Museum can be reached at 212-431-2609.
Photography by: Jamie Martinez