Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective

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Exhibition co-curators Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky discuss a selection of works by the legendary American artist, Paul Thek. The audio guide includes commentary by artist Neil Jenney and literary scholar Ed Burns, who also reads excerpts from the artist’s extensive writings.

Installation view of Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 21–January 1, 2011). Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

NARRATOR: By the mid-1970s, the dollar’s decline made living in Europe expensive. Thek returned home to New York, where he struggled, emotionally, artistically, and professionally. Curator Elisabeth Sussman discusses how drug use may have affected the artist.

ELISABETH SUSSMAN: I think there were times—he’s very honest in his journals about this—that he just went too far. I think it was hard to come back from those states and I think they did affect him permanently and that he wasn't in the best shape because of the kind of life he had led.

NARRATOR: Thek was also sick with Hepatitis and broke. He had to bag groceries and work as a janitor in a hospital to get by. He often seemed angry and paranoid and alienated many old friends. Ed Burns who has been reading from Thek’s writings throughout the tour was Thek’s friend during this time. Mr. Burns reflected recently in an interview on the artist’s frustration:

ED BURNS: He had had success in Europe, and when he came back to New York, it was as if he was an unknown artist. He was very difficult with dealers. And he was difficult with the art world establishment. I think it's that he had had extraordinary experiences in Europe, where he was free to create the kinds of environmental spaces that he wanted to. And when he came to New York, he found himself someone that nobody knew and he found himself in a world where art and the artist had become commodified.

NARRATOR: The next two galleries contain work from this time.

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