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A Narrative Biography

1950 - 68 | 1968 - 72 | 1973 - 77 | 1978 - 83 | 1984 - 88

1968-69 Thek works in one of the studios of the Stedelijk Museum on Prinseneiland. He makes Chicken Coop and the first Fishman — another full body cast of himself, covered with casts of fishes in rubber — with the help of Sergio dei Vecchi. In Amsterdam, Thek meets photographer Edwin Klein and art dealers Ritsaert ten Cate of Galerie Mickery and Felix Valk of Galerie 20, as well as Contrucci, an Italian craftsman who produces decorative dwarfs and animals. Thek takes a dwarf to his studio and creates the Dwarf Parade Table around it. In January 1969, Thek participates in a group exhibition with Dutch artists Woody van Amen, Daan van Golden and Wim T. Schippers at Galerie 20 in Amsterdam. He installs small 'meat pieces,' hanging from steel cables attached to the walls of the gallery.
In March, Thek presents Fishman at the Stable Gallery. The cast is suspended from a tree in the courtyard of the gallery. Inside the gallery is a landscape by Ann Wilson. He returns to Amsterdam to continue working on the exhibition for the Stedelijk Museum, his first self-initiated 'work in progress.' For the first time he collaborates with a group of close friends, whom he dubs the Artist's Co-op, then consisting of Franz Deckwitz, Edwin Klein and Sergio dei Vecchi. The Artist's Co-op exhibitions intentionally coincide with Easter and Christmas. The exhibition The Procession/ The Artist's Co-op opens at the Stedelijk Museum at Easter. It includes Dwarf Parade Table, Chicken Coop and Fishman, as well as several paintings by Vincent van Gogh from the museum's collection. The Dutch press criticizes Thek for what they consider disrespect for the famous artist. They call him a 'messmaker,' and nickname the show 'Museomasochism' and 'Thek-toc.' To Emmy Huf of De Volkskrant, April 1969, Thek comments: 'Of course they [the visitors] are being fooled, the entire institution museum fools us. It really is too crazy to show the work of still a living artist as history of art in a museum. Duchamp once said that a work of art has a real lifespan of around 25 years and then becomes history of art. Nowadays it no longer lives even one year....The museum is really my arch enemy....I do not want to be considered a category, a representative of this or that year....I murder my work by showing it.'
The Stedelijk Museum and the Moderna Museet co-publish A Document Made by Paul Thek and Edwin Klein (1969). Each page of the book represents the same facsimile of a section from the International Herald Tribune with a different configuration of objects and photographs.
At Easter, Thek also creates the outdoor environment Decorations for a Tree, Wires and a Cross, also known as The Procession/Easter in a Pear Tree, for the Mickery Gallery, Loenersloot. Thek moves to a studio at the Prinsengracht, where he creates large triptychs in watercolor and chalk on blackboard, and paintings of dwarfs in acrylic on newspaper.
Thek is commissioned by the Nederlands Dans Theater to design sets and costumes for Glen Tetley's ballet Arena. The set comprises a fountain in a tub and piles of chairs on a newspaper-strewn floor; the dancers are dressed in underpants only, their ears and armpits colored red. At this time, he is frequently seen bicycling through Amsterdam with his ears painted red. Thek spends the summer on Ponza. He writes to Ann. Wilson: 'I am doing paintings of blue puddles, poor man's Winslow Homer, oh yes, anyway, yes I am too. Paul the puddle painter. It's in my blood.'
In October he travels to Cologne for an exhibition at the new space of Galerie M.E. Thelen. He writes to Ann Wilson: 'A strange ride in the back seat of a German stationwagon with a new Fishman stretching out throughout and traffic looking and looking. Even asked by high-officer capped police to cover figure with newspapers so as not to frighten children and old people, so, for the show, that is what I wi11 do. And a room of flying papers and eggs. A painted puddle or two. They have rented me a terrible Cologne apt. for my show, as I refused to show in the Boutique Gallery. It is a weird first floor Paranoid Polanski Repulsion Place.' Thek creates Work in Progress at Brüsseler Platz and dedicates it to Van Gogh.
At the end of the year Thek travels to Egypt, where he visits the pyramids. He returns to New York and shares a loft with Ann Wilson and critic Jill Johnston.

1970 In May, The Tomb and Chicken Coop are shown in the travelling group exhibition Figures and Environments, curated by Martin Friedman, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Thek sends detailed construction plans for the building of the pieces, and a shopping list for materials and props: '...5. Find and construct: strong rectangular...wooden table, old school table, work table, etc.



Place inside coop. 6. Pet Shop - 3 pair colored birds, small, cheap - type to live in coop with chicken + 2 pair doves. 4 chickens, 1 male. Floor of coop should be sand or earth, pebbles, smaller birds must have own houses to hang within coop, own feeders, chicken must have basins etc., water. 7. Have available enamels - yellow, oran., red, purple, blue, white, gray...old newspapers, rags, 8 yds strong flex enema bag kind of rubber tubing, white bed sheet (preferably not new), pillow (no case), 13 dinner plates (institutional type if possible, white or pink ideally).'
In June, Thek shows his drawings on blackboard and newspaper paintings of dwarfs at the Stable Gallery. In October the gallery closes. He returns to Ponza, where he writes to Birgit Küng: 'I paint still, & finally find the courage to go outside and paint...only now the problems are funnies in that Stable Gallery is closing....In a way, I'm glad, I am through with it definitely, over, I only hope someone with my talent will not starve....My head is filled with sculptures + table-top dream environments - if only I had a place to build it all.'
Thek and Franz Deckwitz create the environment Crèche at Galerie Mickery around Christmas. Later, Thek writes in a so-called 'career narrative:"I did a Christmas show, a life-sized crèche (crib) in which the spectators inadvertently become "the figures." Working within our given cultural-theological heritage I find much greater public interest and involvement; perhaps one of the functions of art is Revival!
Thek starts to keep notebooks, which he will do until the end of his life. The books consist of notes, newspaper clippings, quotations from favorite writers such as St. Augustine and William Blake, watercolors of landscapes, ideas, feelings, and images that later appear in his paintings, sculptures, and environments.

1971 Thek moves between Paris and Amsterdam. He meets the art dealer Alexandre Iolas, who co-owns galleries in Madrid, Milan, Paris and New York (the Brooks Jackson Gallery Iolas).
Thek attends Deafman Glance by theater director Robert Wilson. After seeing the piece several times, he asks Wilson if he can perform. He plays a series of small roles. He writes to Peter Harvey: 'I played with Wilson in Paris and Amsterdam. Our work goes together. He had fish hanging in trees. I couldn't believe it. Pink pyramids...'
The exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm takes place at the end of 1971. Thek works with 0lle Granath, who succeeds Pontus Hulten as curator of the show. The Artist's Co-op for this exhibition, entitled Pyramid/A Work in Progress, comprises actress Michele Collison, artist Toby Schiimmer, and Franz Deckwitz, Edwin Klein, and Ann Wilson. Visitors enter the environment through a large pyramid then walk along a sink fountain, a pink vulcano, Stag in the Boat, Fishman in Excelsis Table, Dwarf Parade Table, Chicken Coop and the corpse from The Tomb. Pre-recorded sound and music by the Artist's Co-op is incorporated in the environment.
Thek writes to Deckwitz in February 1972: 'The reviews were fantastic. Beyond belief. Truly I am a bit frightened by them, they were so good, so understanding of what I tried to do....It was a time of great strain. A show I thought about for 4 years + ran away from + wanted to do + didn't want to do. Now it is over, until the next time. What "next time" will be, I don't know, not the same thing – impossible. But something else. Thicker. Deeper....I want to make a real place to rest + worship in, not just art.'

1972 In March, Thek builds A Station of the Cross at Galerie M.E. Thelen, Essen.
He designs the set for Robert Wilson's Overture for Ka Mountain and GUARDenia Terrace in Paris, which consists of two backdrops depicting a huge dinosaur and a volcano. With the Artist's Co-op – this time artists Lee Fitzgerald (Wahundra), Karl Stuecklen, and Edwin Klein, Lily Nova, and Ann Wilson – Thek builds an installation for documenta 5 under the direction of Harald Szeemann. The environment, entitled Ark, Pyramid, derives from the installation at the Moderna Museet.
After documenta 5, Thek returns to Oakleyville and New York. He rents a loft on Prince Street, where he starts making large paintings of interiors and city views. From New York he writes to Franz Deckwitz: 'I am now here trying to do some paintings, some real paintings, oils on canvas, but it is hard so hard to get started again, the hardest thing I've ever done....I am trying to do some paintings of NYC especially the two new World Trade Center buildings which are so very enormous ENORMOUS I call them Sodom and Gomorroah which is pretty much the way it is, NYC and US are very much changed now.'