The year is 1976, and Durk Dehner’s attention is caught by a flyer in a Manhattan leather bar. The reason is not the motorcycle run it’s advertising, but the drawing that adorns it. Drawn to the image, which personifies the appeal of leather culture, he takes the flyer. The next day, at Target Studios, an influential New York adult male, photography studio, he shows the picture to the artist Etienne. “Do you know who did this drawing?” he asks Etienne, showing him the image. “Of course, it’s Tom of Finland.”
This encounter between Tom of Finland’s drawing – albeit in this case a poor reproduction – and Durk Dehner led first to a years-long letter exchange between the two, then to the exposure of Tom’s work internationally, and most importantly, to the beginning of Tom Finland Foundation. Along the way, innumerable friendships were built on love, sex and freedom; Durk is still President & Cofounder of the foundation they created nearly four decades ago. This story from New York’s The Spike bar is among many others highlighted in The AllTogether Clubhouse exhibition. The show gravitates around New York encounters such as the one between Durk and Tom’s oeuvre, and looks into overlapping and interwoven stories, the city’s nocturnal archives, while mapping the city through its sexual arenas, cruising, and nightlife sites from the 1970s to the present day. The AllTogether Clubhouse consists of a group exhibition featuring the permanent art collection of Tom of Finland Foundation and other artists’ works, as well as an active event program that extends the explored themes of nightlife and its past and present queer histories. Taking place during NYC Pride Week (June 21-25, 2023) at the special clubhouse (9 West 8th Street) in West Village at the historical epicenter of American LGBTQIA+ culture and activism, the exhibition features over 30 artists and a rich daily program of activations from noon through the evening. The AllTogether Clubhouse is an independent continuation of the AllTogether exhibition that was organized in 2022 in Venice, Italy, and in Paris, France. The show and festival are co-curated by The Community and Tom of Finland Foundation and supported by Diesel.
The first part of the exhibition features selected artworks, archives, posters, and other ephemera that are situated at a defining moment of American history in the 1970s, when post-Stonewall communities and subcultures were demonstrating a novel level of intensity regarding the expression and liberation of sexuality and gender. In the show, the photography of Stanley Stellar and Arthur Tress capture this unique moment of New York and its cruising history. Both artists, Stellar in a more documentary style and Tress in a more surrealist tone, deep-dive into the Manhattan waterfronts along the Hudson River, where naked sunbathing and anonymous sex were celebrated on the dilapidated piers, which also provided a site of artistic creation for some of history’s celebrated artworks. This theme is equally considered in the painterly work of Jonathan Weinberg, whose work sheds light on the defining sites of cruising encounters, from riverside piers to downtown theaters.
Moving downtown from the waterfront, the theme of the selected artworks gravitates around the Village leather bars and important landmarks of the era, gathering places for local and international leather communities while witnessing the proliferation of BDSM practices. The city, which was in the 1970s going through a severe economic crisis, became simultaneously the focal point for the flourishing porn industry, with its various adult bookshops, theaters, and sex shops open 24 hours a day, leaving their mark on the New York panorama. Selected archives and publications, such as the magazine Straight to Hell, discuss this era and industry in the exhibition. Founded by Boyd McDonald (1925-1993) in the early 1970s, Straight to Hell became, over the years, a much-followed printed channel through which readers across the US could share their dirty stories. Continuing on the same subject, the show also features documentation and imagery from the Gaiety Theatre. Run by the art duo Bone Boyz it was one of the last gay strip clubs and venues in Times Square before its total shift to a commercial shopping territory.
In downtown New York, the decisive arena for artistic exposure for Tom of Finland and the whole community of artists around him was Louis Weingarden’s gallery, Stompers. Weingarden was a composer, an important figure of the downtown art scene, and had his music played at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, amongst others. Stompers, which Weingarden ran, was a used boot shop, while its backspace functioned as an art gallery. The place was one of the first addresses in town which exhibited artworks of erotic subject matter. In The AllTogether Clubhouse, A.J. Epstein’s photography, documenting the opening of Tom of Finland’s and Etienne’s show at the gallery in 1978, is featured. The exhibition then gradually moves to the 1980s, an era that also marked Tom’s work and recognition in the art world, while conveying stories from the era that ravaged the city’s gay and queer communities. Pet Silvia, artist who used gender issues as the basis of much of his art, explores the notions between “pretty girl” and body-beautiful while juxtaposing elements between popular culture and artists’ models in fine art. Tony Charmoli’s painting represents a ballet scene, a picture-within-picture, in which an African American ballet dancer sits in front of a painting depicting a more classic interior ballet scene. Charmoli, who was an American dancer, choreographer and director, and well-known for his work for Broadway and his Emmy nominations, presents here work that creates a strong link with artists such as Etienne and George Quantaince, who also pursued their own dancing careers, looking into the queer history of ballet. Rinaldo Hopf’s 1995 photograph Quentin Crisp, New York portrays the famous English author, raconteur, and gay icon Quentin Crisp, discussing Crisp’s years in NYC. Crisp, who had moved from London to New York in 1978, fell in love with the city and inspired, among others, Sting’s song “An Englishman in New York”.
The last part of the exhibition looks into the constantly changing social landscape and nightlife of New York City today. The event program widely discusses nightlife and its status in a context where LGBTQIA+ people run fewer and fewer bars and nightlife establishments. This development severely impacts different queer communities: It has always been nightlife where people find community but often also income to support their practice. NYC-based contemporary voices, such as Gio Black Peter, a longtime nightlife organizer and performer, asks these questions both through his performative intervention and painterly work in the exhibition. Amanda Lepore and Linda Simpson, both legends of NYC nightlife, look into the historical development of the scene, sharing their stories of 1980s-1990s New York as part of the festival program.
The AllTogether Clubhouse introduces multifarious entangled worlds and narratives, while the main thread centers on the historic development of erotic art and expression in the context of New York and its nightlife. The works, archives, and ephemera featured in the show are considered through the development of the larger social landscape of American society within the debates about freedom, gender, sexuality, and identity. If the histories of LGBTQIA+ communities remain to this day fragmented, they nevertheless represent a series of interdependent historical events and debates that have been the major force in shaping the previous decades. What unites these histories and communities is the expression of radical sexualities and subcultures, with the attempt to stay resistant to heteronormative ideals. The AllTogether Clubhouse explores the grittiest parts and archives of the modern metropolis, while seeking to bring care to sensitive materials: It is a homecoming show and a celebration of the past and present of queer (night)life.
Published: 19th June 2023Tags: The AllTogether Clubhouse
Categorised in: Events