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: In 1987, Thek was diagnosed with AIDS, and he died the following year. The paintings in this gallery were all made during the last year of his life. Lynn Zelevansky:

LYNN ZELEVANSKY: They have themes in them that pertain to death. But you can see him seeing death really as a kind of freedom and a kind of escape. And so when you look at the prison bars and they're pulled apart . . . the prison is earth and the way out is death. The work is so gorgeous. I mean, it's so touching and so moving and so beautiful and so unafraid of the dark side and so appreciative of the light side. I think it's amazing.

NARRATOR: The contemplative installation here recreates Thek’s last gallery exhibition, which he designed himself, hanging the pictures low to the floor. Being surrounded by the aqua-blue-green images, he said, "felt like being on a swimming pool." Thek’s friend Ed Burns remembers the exhibition:

ED BURNS: And what I think he did when he hung the show and placed the works was to try and give the sense of intimacy, as if you were coming into his studio and looking at the works. He wanted to draw you in personally into his world.