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New Exhibit Offers Glimpse of Gay Life in 1950s New York

By Andrea Swalec | April 15, 2013 9:12am

MANHATTAN — Whitney Museum of American Art displayed a retrospective of Brooklyn-born sculptor and painter Paul Thek in 2010 that focused on the hyper-realistic sculptures he made in the 1960s that resembled flesh.

Now, a new exhibition on display in SoHo through July 7 focuses on Thek's earlier work and his personal life in his 20s and 30s, giving an intimate look at a circle of young, gay male artists in the 1950s.

Showing at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on Wooster Street, "Paul Thek and His Circle in the 1950s" includes photographs of Thek and friends, including writer Tennessee Williams and the photographer Peter Hujar.

A 1957 photograph included in the exhibition shows Williams bare-chested and grinning, wearing only a towel.

Another 1957 photograph shows Thek — who participated in an Andy Warhol screen test — lounging on the hood of a classic car with set designer Peter Harvey and artist Paul Fisher.

The exhibition, co-curated by gay art expert Jonathan David Katz — who worked on the "HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibition on LGBT life shown at the Brooklyn Museum in late 2011 — also includes photographs and paintings made from 1954 to 1964 by Thek's friends.

Despite rampant discrimination against LGBT people in the '50s and '60s, Thek and friends lived and made art freely, the museum said in a statement.

"Despite the threat, this group of openly gay artists unabashedly connected their work and their sexuality, seemingly unconcerned with how blatantly gay work would be received or influence their professional reputations," the statement read. "None of these men ever made even the slightest attempt at the time to obscure their homosexuality."

Born in 1933, Thek died of AIDS in 1988.

"Paul Thek and His Circle in the 1950s" will be on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art at 26 Wooster St. at Grand Street through July 7. The museum is free and open 12 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.