2023 honorees at Palm Springs Leather Pride

9th November 2023, 2:06 pm


Durk Dehner (L) with Gus Van Sant (C) and Tom Bianchi (R) Photo: Champ Daniels


Over Palm Springs Leather Pride weekend, Tom of Finland Foundation bestowed awards upon our latest honorees. In front of a lively crowd at ToFF’s Cigar Social at the Tool Shed, Durk Dehner presented awards to Artist Hall of Fame-winner Tom Bianchi and Cultural Icon Award-winner Gus Van Sant. Congratulations to our latest award winners!



Tom Bianchi (L) accepts the Artist Hall of Fame Award




Tom Bianchi

The work of Tom Bianchi is a nuanced study of the male form. A photographer and writer, Bianchi’s photographs were first exhibited in 1978. The next four decades would see his work shown around the world, including in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan.

Born and raised in Chicagoland, Bianchi originally studied poli-sci and law, and he actually practiced law until age 34, when he gave up the trade to follow his artistic pursuits, in one instance literally affixing his law degree to an early artwork of his. Not long after in 1984, Bianchi had his first museum retrospective at the Spoleto Festival in Spoleto, Italy.

Bianchi’s photographs capture the interplay between flesh and light. It’s no surprise that over 20 of Bianchi’s books have been published, and multiple documentaries about his work have been produced. In 2013, Bianchi and husband Ben Smales were honored by Time magazine and the New York Times for having published one of the best photo books of the year in Fire Island Pines Polaroids 1975–1983.

After losing a partner to AIDS, Bianchi became an avid supporter of those living with HIV/AIDS. In 1993, Bianchi co-founded a biotech company with the mission of developing new anti-viral therapies. Bianchi was honored by Visual AIDS in 2019 for his efforts. Yet despite the effect of HIV/AIDS on the Gay community, Bianchi never let the disease diminish the passion in his work. Bianchi embodies the spirit of Tom of Finland Foundation in that he is helping to create a world in which a younger generation of Queer folks can thrive. Before relocating to Palm Springs, Bianchi was a regular participant in the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival.

It is our honor to present this year’s Artist Hall of Fame Award to Tom Bianchi.



Gus Van Sant (L) accepts the Cultural Icon Award




Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant is an Oscar-nominated, Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker. After an early career in commercials, Van Sant made his narrative feature debut with 1985’s Mala Noche. He received critical acclaim for his next films Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, the latter becoming a seminal work in the Queer New Wave movement of the 1990s. Loosely based on the works of William Shakespeare, My Own Private Idaho starred River Phoenix and debuted at the Venice Film Festival.

1997’s Good Will Hunting put Van Sant in the international spotlight. Winning two Academy Awards, the film grossed over $225 million dollars at the box office. 2003 saw Van Sant’s Elephant debut at the Cannes Film Festival; in a rare feat, the film garnered Van Sant both the Palme d’Or and the Best Director Prize at Cannes. In 2008, Van Sant cemented his status as a Queer icon by directing Milk, the biopic of slain San Francisco Supervisor and Gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Van Sant is also a prolific visual artist. Working in a variety of different media, his art centers the experience of people on the fringes of society. His work has shown in exhibitions across Europe and the United States.

What makes Gus Van Sant the Tom of Finland Foundation Cultural Icon Award-winner is not only his award-winning films, his box office receipts, or his catalogue raisonné. What makes Gus Van Sant our Cultural Icon is his ability to tell stories in the Queer vernacular without pandering to audiences. His audacious narratives unfold in ways that are both recognizable for Gay viewers and thoroughly revolutionary. His willingness to shepherd in a new generation of Queer filmmakers is to be celebrated. The path paved by Gus Van Sant is one made easier for those who follow.

Please give a warm round of applause to Tom of Finland Foundation’s Cultural Icon, Gus Van Sant.


Tom of Finland Foundation Awards 2023

Tom of Finland Foundation Awards 2023   Tom of Finland Foundation has presented awards since 2000 to stellar individuals who have demonstrated their vast commitment to our community. These annual awards are a blend of our history and our future. Violet Chachki Tom Bianchi Gus Van Sant Past Winners CULTURAL ICON AWARD FOR ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT AND… View Article

Published: 9th November 2023

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