Tom of Finland Centennial 1920–2020

29th April 2020, 5:43 pm

 

Tom at TOM House, Los Angeles, 1984; Photo by Jack Shear

Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen 8th May 1920, and died 7th November 1991) has long been recognized as one of the 20th century’s great visual innovators. As he confronted the stigmas and stereotypes that long burdened homosexual desire, his depictions of empowered gay men fully enjoying their sexuality proved liberating on social and aesthetic levels alike. The sheer range of his influence on the culture at large is immeasurable. His work assumes a key role in the art historical discourse (Tom’s drawings are in the collections of institutions like The Museum of Modern Art, New York and regularly appear in museum shows throughout the world), but also occupies a place in every corner of the popular imagination.

We celebrate this centennial to honor what this one artist contributed to humankind. Tom devoted his life, his artistic career that spanned over five decades, to the vision of Homosexuals being free to be happy in loving whomever they desired – and in turn, for all of society to be supportive of his view. In many parts of the world it’s not safe to be LGBTQ+, so there is still much work to be done.

On 8th May we encourage all to make something beautiful and share it – bake a cake, open a bottle of wine and raise a toast to Tom for all that he created and left us in his legacy. –Durk Dehner, President and Cofounder, Tom of Finland Foundation

On 8th May 2020 Tom would have turned 100 years old and many celebrations have been planned internationally.

For a preview of the year to come, Let’s Go Camping With Tom of Finland ran in Kendal, UK from 28th September–19th October 2019 and charted the artist’s career including his famous comic series. In February, Brooke Wise curated a Tom of Finland Foundation fundraiser exhibition, I Won’t Bite as part of Frieze Los Angeles and included a range of artists who support the Foundation’s mission to protect and promote LGBTQIA art and artists.

  • Tom of Finland: The Darkroom opened on 21st February and has been extended to 19th June at Fotografiska Tallinn in Estonia.  It is temporarily closed but offers an online tour, a recorded TV interview and podcast with curator Berndt Arell. The exhibition concentrates on photographs by Tom and his artistic process, and travels to Stockholm and New York.

  • Tom of Finland: Love and Liberation opened on 6th March at House of Illustration in London and is scheduled to end 27th June. It is temporarily closed but offers several online tours currently with Durk Dehner, and he will be in a live online conversation with the show’s curator, Olivia Ahmad on Tom’s birthday at 6p London time. The exhibition features iconic, previously unseen drawings and will be slated to travel to other institutions.

  • Tom of Finland: 100 Years opened online at David Kordansky Gallery on 14th April and is on view through 12th May. The exhibition features never-before-exhibited drawings in pencil and pen and ink, as well as Tom’s personal collages.

2020 will also see other exhibitions mounted in honor of Tom of Finland. Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland will open later in the year at Parco’s Gallery X in Tokyo. The exhibition puts emphasis on Tom of Finland’s role in promoting sensual and erotic depictions of the male body as a catalyst for social change and the acceptance of Gay people. Tom of Finland’s work will be seen at Art Basel online in June and The Community in Paris will curate a large-scale exhibition of Tom of Finland Foundation’s permanent collection. Tom of Finland: Made in Germany will have an autumn opening at Gallery Judin in Berlin. Tom’s first ever exhibition was in Hamburg in 1976 and he did many commissions for German clients; the gallery has devoted a show and publication to these seminal years.

Two more publications on Tom of Finland will be released this year on the occasion of the artist’s birth. The first, from Like, Tom of Finland, will be released on 8th May and is an updated Finnish language book that sheds light on Tom’s private life, his art and his spirit of joyfulness; the publishers will host a Live Instagram at 7p Helsinki time. The second, a new edition of Tom’s biography from Cernunnos, Tom of Finland: The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero, is fully illustrated and reveals a life of art, pleasure and liberation with texts authorized by Tom himself and a foreword by Jean Paul Gaultier:

I should say, if I remember right, it was in the beginning of the ’70s. I saw some drawings in Kake. It was one of those little stories that were quite funny. I just saw it and thought: “Oh my god! What is that?” I was super impressed and shocked in a very good way. I must say after that I just wanted more and more and more. The men were shown as sexy, beautiful and gentle, and almost feminine, refined, etc. It was that type of men you have to love. So it’s Tom’s drawings that show that you can be attracted to sexy men.

Men.com is releasing an anthology series based on, and inspired by, the classic works of Tom of Finland with Cory Krueckeberg, Bruce LaBruce, Terry Miller, Matt Lambert and François Sagat directing and bringing their interpretations of the Tom universe to life. Bruce LaBruce had this to say about his involvement in the series:

Tom of Finland’s drawings have always intrigued me and turned me on as a kind of burlesque of gay male sexuality. It’s a performative masculinity that also happens to be extremely hot. There is much joy in the representation, as well as an underlying current of humor and irony.

In 2017, the country of Finland celebrated its 100 years which included the release of the biopic, Tom of Finland, an account of a vital chapter of Gay history, that also had it’s own exhibition in Turku. In 2016, Taidehalli in Helsinki presented Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play, a major exhibition from Artists Space that portrayed the artist’s work on wider scale than ever seen before. This year, member organizations of the Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes are supporting the Tom of Finland exhibitions in the United Kingdom and Japan, as is the Embassy of Finland in Tokyo.

The Finnish Diplomatic Missions in the US produce a Suomi–Finland Podcast series in English. The Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles visited TOM House earlier this year and will release a podcast episode on 7th May, that reveals an intimate side of Tom and his contributions to society.

A memorial plaque will be placed on an apartment house where Tom lived in Helsinki, the Postal Museum in Tampere will present an online talk with Susanna Luoto about Tom’s correspondence. On Tom’s birthday MSC Finland – TOM’s Club will do an Facebook presentation at 6p Helsinki time and his home town of Kaarina will present an online concert tribute.

Tom of Finland defied homophobic censorship. He affirmed and glamourised our sexuality; giving hope and confidence to gay men at a time when many had internalised homophobia and sexual guilt. His imagery turned upside down the stereotype that we were weak and disgusting. It portrayed gay men as strong and desirable, which was refreshing and empowering. What Tom of Finland gave us was an antidote to the negative, demeaning heterosexual supremacist representations of homosexuality. Peter Tatchell, LGBT+ human rights campaigner.

Everyone is invited to wish Tom a happy birthday with a tribute
on what ever social media platform/s they use with the tag
#TOMs100.

TOM OF FINLAND, Untitled, 1988, Graphite on paper, © 1988-2020 Tom of Finland Foundation

When I was a young man in the late ’50s, Tom of Finland invented an impossible-to-live-up-to Gay male look that defied stereotypical Queerness before I ever realized there was such a thing. I wanted to meet the men depicted in his drawings but struggled at the time, because the only people that I saw in Baltimore that looked that butch were Lesbians. He’s still a god to me, a great artist, one of the founders of filth, a spiritual leader from the gutter. If you ever want sex today, just pray to him and it will happen. John Waters

On 8th May, Tom of Finland Foundation will announce the Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition; a contest to encourage, showcase and reward artists.

Artist and designer, Daniel Lismore has said:

For me Tom of Finland’s work and activism is a great inspiration. I first discovered Tom’s work age 15. I found some images in a Queer magazine and had them in a secret box in my bedroom. In 2001 at age 17, I moved to London to be a model, aspiring to be a photographer. I discovered one of his books in an art gallery and starting learning a lot about the Gay world from them. I met a leather master in a club, he looked like one of Tom’s drawings, and hung out with him for a while to explore the leather scenes in London. I looked, but very rarely touched. I just found it fascinating, I scouted guys in bars took them to my friends to take pictures. I learned a lot about Queer history and activism through those times and Tom inspired that. To know his work to is understand our Queer past. He is a reference everyone should understand and appreciate.

 

ARTICLES AND EVENTS


Tom of Finland Foundation, dedicated to preserving Tom’s legacy and supporting erotic art since 1984, operates out of Tom of Finland House (TOM House), the artist’s former shared residence and now a Historic-Cultural Monument in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was founded by Tom and Durk Dehner in 1984.

A LETTER FROM ToFF’s PRESIDENT AND COFOUNDER


PUBLISHED ARTICLES

Published: 29th April 2020

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