Paul Thek, Revisited

4.10.2013

By Jerry Portwood

The late, great artist's intimate side.

Above left: courtesy The Peter Hujar Archive (Paul Thek, Nude, Astride Zebra). Right: courtesy The Peter Harvey Collection (untitled).

Audiences have come to know Paul Thek as many things -- painter, sculptor, critic, cult figure -- but his sexuality has always taken a backseat to his work—even during the recent Whitney retrospective.

When curator Jonathan David Katz approached Thek’s former lover, 80-year-old Peter Harvey, now a notable set designer, about pulling together a new exhibit, Harvey says it quickly became clear that there was an untold story about the artist, known primarily for his “meat pieces” of the 1960s.

“I had all these drawings and paintings that Paul did of me, some with my clothes off,” Harvey explains. “I suggested we not only focus on Paul but on a group of us, a circle of gay buddies who influenced each other’s work.”

That group included photographer Peter Hujar and painter Joe Raffaele, as well as Wilbur Pippin, Theodore Newman, and Paul Fisher. The show, titled Paul Thek and His Circle: Gay in the 1950s, includes never-before-seen pieces from Harvey’s personal collection, rare photographs, and letters. “Everyone thinks the ’50s were so repressed,” Harvey says, “but we were all having affairs with one another and having a great time.”

Running April 12 through July 7 at New York City’s Leslie-Lohman Museum.

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