A New York exhibition promises to shed a refreshingly intimate, revealing light on the life of a gay American icon.
Set to open at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on April 12, "Paul Thek And His Circle In The 1950s" examines the personal life of gay artist Paul Thek, including his relationships with close friends and lovers. The stunning photographs, sketches, letters and other pieces capture the world-renowned painter, sculptor and installation artist at his most private, at a time when he reveled with photographer Peter Hujar, playwright Tennessee Williams and fellow artist Peter Harvey in New York and throughout New England.
Curators say they hope each of the 117 pieces found in the exhibit not only help to "restore a social dimension" to the work of the artist (who died of AIDS in 1988) and his comrades, but also serve as visual chronicle of the gay community of the 1950s and 1960s. Many of more personal pieces displayed come directly from the collection of co-curator Harvey, who dated Thek in the late 1950s while working in theater and costume design in Florida and throughout the northeast.
"While it's true that the 1950's were a cruel decade for queers, it's equally true that in place like New York or Miami, at least at a certain socio-economic level, there was tolerance and even respect," co-curator Jonathan Katz told HuffPost Gay Voices in an email. "But that larger climate of bigotry may help to explain the insulating effect of working in and through a circle of peers."
Leslie-Lohman Museum Director Hunter O'Hanian felt similarly, pointing to the fact that the "gay side" of Thek's work has been mostly overlooked by mainstream art institutions.
"The relationships these artists developed as young men –- particularly in a time when being gay was termed a 'sexual perversion' by the U.S. government –- had a profound impact on their creative lives," O'Hanian said. "We hope this exhibition might shows how these topics can be addressed and handled in a museum setting. It is an important part of who they were as people and artists."
As to how Thek's work would have progressed if he had lived, Katz can only speculate, particularly since the artist suffered from mental illness in his later years. "I suspect he would have continued to surprise us with images previously literally inconceivable," Katz noted.
"Paul Thek And His Circle In The 1950s" runs at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art from April 12 through July 7. For more information, click here.
Check out a series of images from the exhibit below:
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