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A Narrative Biography

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

1984 Thek considers joining a monastery. He writes a letter to the Carthusian monastery, The Charterhouse of Transfiguration, Arlington, Vermont: 'I'm a state-educated Catholic, my actual knowledge of the Church is not great, of liturgy and rites I know very little. I've traveled too much and too long to have been absorbed into any community. I came to a kind of reawakening only rather late in life and have felt a fish out of water ever since. I have little or no "prayer life" as such, though I feel very close to Brother Lawrence as the constant Presence he speaks of.... I already spend far more time actually alone than any of you do, and I have no sharing community to return to when my aloneness becomes too great.... Perhaps my own creative work might be continued there? I don't know. The photos of the rooms indicated a good deal of stunning landscape out the window, and probably some rather stunning weather as well.... I should like, at least, to be able to visit.'
Richard Flood organizes an exhibition of Thek's paintings at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York. In December, Thek's mother dies. Later he writes to his friend Jon Phetteplace: 'For the moment, for this long moment, I seem to be experiencing a middle-age crisis, or is it the death of mum? But I'm really not so much into "my art," though I go on doing it. It seems so far from life, so unrelated to the day to day of it, so little help to the others. I did a little painting yesterday though, "Afflict the Comfortable, Comfort the Afflicted." That seemed about to say it. Generally, I'm sure that most art (not only modern but ALL art) doesn't often address the standards by which we live.'

1985-86 Thek is chosen to represent the United States at the Bienal de São Paulo. He makes the environment Noah's Raft in collaboration with street children. In January 1986, he writes to Charles Shuts: 'I just got back from doing one of my things in Brazil. And Brazil was worse! To be sure, impoverished people, unequal wealth, heavy heavy polution, police state....But I had a good time, did a good thing (hired 5 of the local abandoned kids...to play an adhoc percussion samba on my Noah's Raft, surrounded by real-looking missiles emerging around them, from out the sand sea), it went over big. And the kids got some $....1'm glad glad you're selling your paintings, etc., that's more than I do, mostly I have to hot-foot to these dreadful places (Brazil, Belgium, etc) to do (again and again) my thing, for the locals. Here in NY my thing is still too political and too "real" to be much of a Broadway hit. But it was a real shocker to be picked by the US State Dept to represent us in Brazil!... I'm glad male sex still continues there [in Europe], let's hope the plague doesn't come. I've 10 friends dead already. Here, I assure you, it's NO JOKE.... I myself am "A-positive"...a sign that I either had it (and dealt with it) or that it is a gestating and that sooner or later... I will have "it." Knock wood. Life is what happens while we are making other plans.'
Thek submits various proposals for public monuments to the city of New York, including The Worker's Throne, a Parks Department bench raised on a pedestal; TheChild's Arc de Triumphe, a climbing frame; and statues of gigantic pigeons in bronze or stone for the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. None of them is ever realized. He also proposes a radical transformation of Richard Serra's controversial Tilted Arc into a kind of Noah's Ark, entitled Revised Ark. Thek comments on his design: `The same money that would be spent in moving Tilted Arc might better be spent in humanizing it! Everyone would be the winner.'
In 1986, Thek participates in curator Jan Hoet's project Chambres d'Amis in Ghent. With Franz Deckwitz he builds a small installation in the house of Romain Berteloot and Luanna 'Vlaemynck.
Thek is offered several retrospective exhibitions in Tübingen, Ghent and Baden-Baden. Jochen Poetter and Dirk Teuber of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden start preparing a retrospective.

1987 Thek visits the Carthusian monastery in Arlington, Vermont. He writes to Franz Deckwitz in January: 'I have been again visiting with those monks, but this last time I went to the most incredible monastery of my life... and I am seriously thinking of joining, if they will have me. They have told me, of course, that by now I am too old... but that it is not impossible for me, it would require a special dispensation from Rome... but it is NOT impossible. It was a BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL PLACE ....I have been even more deeply bored than usual with the so-called "art" world, such silly people doing such silly wasteful things! I find it intolerable now, the world is in such problems and these "artists" play such silly neo-dada games or worry about "aesthetics," "individuality," "freedom," and "newness!" It's all so sad, I long ago outgrew it personally.'
Later in January Thek writes to Deckwitz: 'I am told by my doctor that it very much appears that I am developing AIDS. I do not know what this will mean... other than my hopes are not looking far into the future, at this point. I doubt that I will even have the chance to do the retrospectives, even if they finally get their plans together....But I can't help but know that I have been much weakened in my system and in my WILL by the endless 

disappointments and frustrations of the so-called "art" world, such silly vapid people! My spirit has been broken by all this pushing and cheating and so, I think, the virus has taken hold.' And to Birgit Küng: 'My doctor tells me that I HAVE the AIDS antibodies in my system. This might mean nothing, or everything...There are persons diagnosed like me who are alive and healthy 7, even 10 yrs already! But, sadly, there are many who are NOT....I think it might be best NOT to mention this to anyone there. People do not understand. I feel FINE however and I am told I look OK too. This does not mean that I AM flne however. I must face the fact that I may live only a few years more, "maybe" less.' He writes about the retrospective: 'Indeed, Baden-Baden sounds very serious, I had had a letter from Teuber a few days ago and he seems most committed to the project. Try to explain to them (if you gracefully can) that I am NOT some kind of very difficult artist... but rather that I have had some very unprofessional little tricks played on me by some very unprofessional little European galleries and museums....I wrote Baden-Baden NOT TO CANCEL OR POSTPONE their show dates, it would be a pity NOT to do the retrospective WHILE I am still alive! It would be MUCH MORE DIFFICULT... "later."' In May, Thek cancels the Baden-Baden retrospective.

Later he writes to Harald Szeemann about the retrospective: 'Last year the Baden-Baden Kunsthalle, Jochen Poetter, wrote to me and invited me to a "retrospective" of my works which he wanted me to do there with him. He specifically wanted me to recreate the early "installations" of Stockholm, Kassel, Lucerne... but, of course, we have NO IDEA what (if anything) may be presently still unstolen or unvandalized. Or if it exists, WHERE it is! I write this all to you... in hopes you may find it as depressing and as AMUSING as I have had to find it!'
In May, Thek has an exhibition of paintings on canvas and newspaper at the Mokotoff Gallery, New York. He writes to Franz Deckvvitz: 'My ptg. show here in NYC was PICK OF THE WEEK, in the Village Voice. This made me happy, after so many years away from the US....But...I sold nothing, as usual....I hung all the paintings together on one wall, very close together, and all. VERY LOW to the floor. Nothing higher on the wall than my shoulder height, then paintings hung down the floor, some ptgs on the floor leaning against the wall. Some chairs in front, like a theatre presentation. All the lights off except for the painting wall. It felt like water, like being IN a swimming pool!'

1988 Thek receives an artist grant from the Krasner-Pollock Foundation. He writes to Birgit Küng: 'I'm told that early works of mine (things I did before I ever went to Germany), which were purchased at that time by "name" collectors...will FINALLY be placed in NY museums. I did myself a great disservice by staying in Europe so long.' And to Charles Shuts: 'My many years in Europe have not helped me at all. Understand that here in chauvinistic US time spent in better places is viewed as culturally suspicious, Edward Hopper is oft quoted saying "It took me 10 yrs to get over living in Europe!" I'm never interested in pretty pictures for the ugly rich so I've a bit of a reputation as a "trouble maker." I hope I live up to it, but it doesn't feed what's left of my face. I am supported by the Krasner-Pollock Foundation and there have been lots of various other similar assistances.'
In February, Thek meets the gallerist Brooke Alexander through curator Tricia Collins. He writes to Birgit Küng: '[Alexander] wants me to do a new show for them, but I don't have the energy or the interest anymore. I'm afraid... what there is of my work... is what there will be.' In May he shows Some New Works at the Mokotoff Gallery in the East Village. He agrees to work with Brooke Alexander, and the Mokotoff exhibition is reinstalled as Selected Works 1987-1988 at Brooke Alexander Inc. at the beginning of June. He writes to Franz Deckwitz: 'The show [at the Mokotoff Gallery] looks very beautiful, everyone tells me, I have sold 2 things already....Also I have been invited to a one-man show in the Greenville South Caroline Museum [sic] this fall (with a "major purchase," plus a retrospective the next year), you see, as an American, I did not really even want to have a GERMAN retrospective, I am NOT German, very much NOT German! So, if I live long enough, I will be beginning to have my American retro!...I have also been accepted as a novice in a Carthusian monastery, but they know nothing (yet) of my little medical problem, so I don't (yet) know what will happen.' After the opening of his show at Brooke Alexander Inc., Thek visits the Carthusian monastery and stays with Karl Stuecklen in Vermont. In late July he returns to New York, very ill, and is hospitalized. He dictates his will. Robert Wilson agrees to be the executor. Sheyla Baykal remembers Thek's wry humor as he describes the proceedings as a "career move." Paul Thek dies on August 10, 1988.
A memorial service, 'A celebration for Paul Thek,' is held on December 3 at St. Mark's Church In-The-Bowery in New York. Susan Sontag dedicates her book AIDS and its Metaphors (1989) to his memory.