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A Narrative Biography

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

1978 After the Philadelphia exhibition, he writes to Franz Deckwitz: 'Things are quite bad for me now, I live on borrowed $ and only occasionally do I manage to sell something. You see I was out of this country for too long and now mostly they have new people and things are difficult even for them. America is very competitive you know, always changing, and it was not wise for me to spend so much time away from my home, time has come and gone and for me it is a bit like starting over again, only this time I have not the energy or the creative interest that I had before....I have stopped painting now for some months, I have rather lost interest in it, and so I have taken a job here in a kind of supermarket.' Thek is invited to conduct a graduate seminar at the Cooper Union School of Arts in New York.
Felix Valk, now director of the Lijnbaancentrum, Rotterdam, an exhibition space located in a popular shopping mall, invites Thek to do a new installation. He answers: 'I MUCH PREFER THE DECEMBER DATE. As you may know I like when possible to tie in the show with a holiday period, I find the public more clearly understands my work, more clearly understands the "liturgical" nature of the art.... Christmas is my favorite.' In Rotterdam he encounters Pieter Wiersma, a sand sculptor, and invites him to make a Tower of Babel in sand, modelled after Breughel's famous painting that Thek had seen at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Around the sand tower, Thek and Franz Deckwitz install Jack's Procession: What's Going on Here?, which includes a porn video. The videotape is removed by request of the local police.

1979-80 Back in New York, Thek quits the job in the supermarket to take a cleaning job in a hospital. He writes to Franz Deckwitz: 'I am beginning to paint again, little canvases, very little, 9" x 12", all different styles, all different subjects, though I think a lot of Kandinsky, of Klee, of Gustave Moreau...and of Niki de St.Phalle.' These paintings are exhibited as Small Paintings at the Brooks Jackson Gallery Iolas, New York, in 1980. Curator Richard Flood describes the exhibition in Artforum, May 1980: 'The artist's 18 paintings...were displayed in sham gilt frames (a bamboo motif predominated) with goose-necked museum lamps attached, and punch-tape labels substituting for brass plaques. Delicate gilt chairs...were arranged around a drop-dead orchid centerpiece facing the paintings. The intensely theatrical lighting on the chairs and flowers made them, at first glance, the focus of the exhibition.... The Installation strategy pitted explicitly literal titles against inconsistently forthcoming images and aesthetics. The confluence of visual and verbal clichés high and low art references, careened directly into post-modernism's "poisoned fig" school of art.
Thek is invited by Harald Szeemann to take part in Art of the 70s at the Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 1980. He comments to Szeemann: 'I must say...that I feel the title Art of the 70s is rather unfortunate, are you asking me to participate in the passé? I'm still alive and well into the 80s!' Thek builds an installation, Where Are We Going?, with Franz Deckwitz and Pieter Wiersma, incorporating a second sand version of the Tower of Babel as well as 'small paintings.'
In 1980-81, Thek conducts an undergraduate seminar at the Cooper Union School of Arts, where he presents his Teaching Notes to the students and challenges them on art, philosophy, sex and life.

In April, Thek participates in the exhibition Continuous Creation, curated by Michael Compton, at the Serpentine Gallery in London. He and Franz Deckwitz make the installation This is the Time to Give it a Name: The Earth! the Raft, the Tower of Babel, the Earth, etc. In May he writes to Deckwitz: 'I haven't worked since I got back from London, I seem to have lost all interest in it.... I met with Artforum yesterday and they were shocked that there are no works of mine in any public collection in this country, etc....I think "my time will come" so I don't want to FORCE it, or push it, because then it will come and be then OVER, so I'd rather wait longer and perhaps enjoy it more. If I wasn't for the 60s or 70s maybe I'll sneak a bit into the 80s and 90s! Anyway why not try?' In October, Artforum publishes an interview with Thek by Richard Flood.
Curator Kasper König is interested in showing The Tomb in his exhibition Westkunst. Zeitgenössische Kunst seit 1939 in Cologne. Thek writes to Deckwitz: 'I really don't want to have to do that piece AGAIN! Oh God no! Not THAT one. Imagine having to bury

yourself over and over!' He agrees to let Deckwitz do the installation for him and gives him detailed instructions on how to construct a replica of The Tomb and to install the figure which has been damaged during the seventies: 'I would keep the body in the box and place it away from the glass booth entrance, in the position that it was in the original tomb, just the corpus in the box on the floor. Give it a nice blue blanket and a nice fresh sheet and pillowcase. If you can find 2 or 3 small seat cushions to place on the floor in front of the box, as if persons had been sitting there and then they'd gone away....'
In August, Thek writes to Deckwitz from New York: 'I am doing more newspaper ptgs, interesting, mind stopping, and super BRAT, but still I miss the good  painting of Ponza, the eternal painting, while here in "civilization" I want only to do BAD painting, to shock and hurt them, I don't want to console them here etc etc but it hurts MY spirit ALWAYS to do the bad painting, so I miss Ponza and eternity.'
Felix Valk, now director of Museum voor Land- en Volkenkunde (Ethnological Museum) in Rotterdam, includes the reconstructed Tomb from Westkunst in a travelling exhibition, Kruiden van Hemel en Hel (Herbs from Heaven and Hell). Franz Deckwitz installs the piece. Thek writes to him: 'I would also like you to tell Felix that he can use the Tomb for any show he wants... BUT... I insist that it be stated either on the tomb, or in the catalog... that it has NOTHING to do with his "drug" theme. It is not a psychedelic piece. It is social comment! After the exhibition, the figure from The Tomb is sent to New York. When Thek finds out that the figure is damaged during storage and transportation over the years, he refuses delivery of the piece. After storing the piece without being paid, the shipper finally destroys it.
1982 In March, Thek shows his 'small paintings,' this time entitled Little Paintings, at Galerie Samy Kinge in Paris. Health problems prevent him from attending the exhibition.
Thek participates in the group exhibition Tableaux. Nine Contemporary Sculptors, curated by Michael Klein, at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinatti. Thek and Franz Deckwitz create Diameter of a Titan Missile, a Clock and Blue Bunnies.

1983 Thek writes to Charles Shuts: 'As you may know NYC is ripe with plague now, "aids"....The gay scene here now is vastly different then what you may recall, many have died of it and sexual conduct has undergone enormous changes... also very highly increased social opproprium because of fears of its spreading to the hetero population.' Later, he writes to Shuts: 'It's better than The Plague! We get to go! It's better than dying alone for your own silly little reason! This way we get to go out with a real BANG!'
Thek paints the view from his New York apartment and writes to Franz Deckwitz: 'So to keep myself busy with the extra energy that I simply cannot put into the city paintings I do other soul ptgs that allow me to be free and joyous, not copying only and always what my eyes see. So I try watercolors on the roof. Some are still fresh, but mostly they are crowded with overwork and reworkings, but such is how I like it, crowded little moments of painting, if only the rhythms of the image could be painted as well. I don't mean like Mondrian's Boogie Woogie but more like Money [sic] painted EVERYTHING there was in ANY subject he painted, though always leaving a lot (of what we knew) out.'
Michael Klein introduces Thek to the Pittsburgh Plan for the Arts and he is included in the exhibition Urban Pulses: The Artist and the City, Pittsburgh. Continuing the Cincinatti environment, Thek creates Missiles and Bunnies. He makes a similar environment for the exhibition Content: A Contemporary Focus 1974-1984, curated by Howard Fox, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 1984. He writes to Franz Deckwitz: 'I have been as usual very very depressed, and in my many and endless wonderings concerning my "depression" I finally noticed that my depression may [be] really only the result of my being here in this ugly ugly town, and with people (want to or not) who have NO IDEA of my European self, and I feel bonded to my European self now as strongly as I felt "American." I miss my European life and friends, how nice it was working there together!'