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Gemeentemuseum acquires mysterious self-portrait by Paul Thek
Paul Thek (1933-1988), Farewell to Washington Square (Self-Portrait), circa 1972, acrylic on canvas, collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag - acquisition made possible thanks to the Rembrandt Society and the Mondriaan Fund.

THE HAGUE.- Gemeentemuseum Den Haag has purchased a key work by American artist Paul Thek (1933-1988). Thek painted the piece, entitled Farewell to Washington Square (Self-Portrait), in 1972, shortly before returning to Europe. With this new acquisition the museum now owns three extraordinary works by Thek. The purchase was possible thanks to the support of the Mondrian Fund and the Rembrandt Association, courtesy of its Titus Fund, Coleminks Fund and Post-war and Contemporary Art Fund.

Farewell to Washington Square (Self-Portrait) is typical of the work of Paul Thek. His paintings, sculptures and drawings are often personal, spiritual and emotionally charged. This large, mysterious painting was created at his studio in Prince Street, close to Washington Square in New York. It is a self-portrait that is open to multiple interpretations. We see Thek – recognisable by his shoulder-length hair and beard – through a window, at work in his studio. Around the edges there are associative images of iconic objects and earlier works by Thek, including swans, grapes and cherries. The half-peeled orange in the centre of the composition is striking. In the top right we see the reflection of the yellow lights illuminating the former World Trade Center (Twin Towers).

Important addition
The painting is an important addition to the other works by Paul Thek in Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s collection (which will be known as Kunstmuseum Den Haag from this October). In 2012, the museum purchased a 1971 triptych with the help of the Rembrandt Association, the Mondrian Fund, Bank Giro Loterij, SNS Reaal Fonds and the friends of the museum. Two years later, in 2014, the museum was again able to take advantage of a unique opportunity with the help of the Rembrandt Association, the Mondrian Fund and VSBfonds, when it purchased a sculpture from the Technological Reliquaries series which Thek created in the mid-1960s. It features a display case made of transparent perspex containing a wax imprint of a skinned arm (Untitled, 1965-1966).

International collecting policy
The new acquisition is in line with Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s desire to provide a platform for international artists from the period 1960-1980 – artists whose work is seldom found in Dutch museum collections. With the acquisition of work by Paul Thek, and of other artists like Lee Bontecou, Fred Sandback, Gutai, Lee Lozano and Louise Bourgeois, the museum aims to further widen and deepen the nation’s art collection.

‘Three top works by Paul Thek in the same museum collection is not something we can take for granted’, says museum director Benno Tempel. ‘Thek was ignored for a long time because his work did not fit into the major art movements of his time. Thanks to the generous support of the Rembrandt Association and the Mondrian Fund we can now present a more complete picture and explore the influence of Thek’s mythical, symbolically tinted art on new generations of artists like Mike Kelly, Damien Hirst and Jonathan Meese. The purchase is not an isolated thing, it is part of our internationally oriented collecting policy. I’m incredibly grateful and proud that these great funds support us time and again, helping us further enrich the nation’s collection.’

Paul Thek
Spirituality, sexuality and doubts about technological progress play a key role in the work of Paul Thek (1933-1988). His paintings, works on paper and installations are full of references to religion, literature, pop culture and daily life. From the early 1960s onwards Thek regularly travelled from the United States to Western Europe, including to the Netherlands, where he collaborated with friends on large installations. Many of these ‘environments’, as they were known, were lost after his death.

Over the past few decades the art world has re-evaluated Thek’s work. The travelling exhibition Paul Thek – The Wonderful World That Almost Was (at Witte de With in Rotterdam in 1995), the retrospective in 2011 at the Whitney Museum in New York, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and also the major exhibition at Reina Sofia in Madrid in 2009 all convinced a wider audience of Thek’s reputation as a leading artist of the 1960s and 70s.

Farewell to Washington Square (Self-Portrait) was purchased thanks to the mediation of Jan Grosfeld, and is currently on display in our Discover the Modern exhibit.

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