All together Tom of Finland

8th July 2022, 8:21 am

 

Photos by Joshua Gordon

 

On the occasion of an exhibition celebrating his legacy, we look back to Tom of Finland’s egalitarian, Queer utopia. Through photography by Joshua Gordon and an interview by Anastasiia Fedorova, we discover TOM House in Los Angeles, which exists as an archive, a museum, and an LGBTQ+ community space.

 

Photos by Joshua Gordon

 

A massively influential figure for generations of young men looking for positive Queer role models, Tom of Finland contrasted a reality of discrimination by creating his own, egalitarian utopia—one of unabashed sexuality and liberating humor, that subverted power structures. Today TOM House, which he opened in Los Angeles is an archive, museum, and LGBTQ+ community space—sign up for a book club, sex parties, and now a touring exhibition in Venice and Paris.

 

ANASTASIIA FEDOROVA: I’d like to ask you a little bit about Tom of Finland Foundation and AllTogether, the exhibition you curated together with Paris-based non-profit The Community, which showcases the Foundation’s extensive collection of LGBTQ+ art. But first, could you introduce yourself?

DURK DEHNER: Sure. My name is Durk Dehner and I am the President and Cofounder of Tom of Finland Foundation.

S.R. SHARP: I’m Sharp, the Vice-president and Curator at Foundation.

AF: Amazing. Thank you. So I think for those who might not be familiar with the work of the Foundation as a whole, maybe you could tell me a little bit about your work and the legacy of Tom of Finland?

DD: Sure. I met the artist Tom of Finland in 1978, and I was hosting him here in Los Angeles for his first exhibition in America. So I got to know him a little bit better. And what I experienced were two things. One was how big a fan base he had and how important he was for several generations of young men who were looking for positive role models, and weren’t finding them within the queer culture at the time. We were always depicted in a very negative and demeaning light. I realized that he was more than just a good artist, he had actually changed the culture. Then I decided that it was time for me to do something for him, and so I sort of tried to find out what was on his bucket list. He wanted to stop piracy. So what we did was open up a company together. We started publishing his own work so he could have control over it and get the money from it. That happened in 1980, it was called the Tom of Finland Company. Another thing that was on his bucket list was to have an archive. So in 1984, we incorporated a non-profit and it was called Tom of Finland Foundation Incorporated. It was originally meant to preserve and protect his work. And soon thereafter, because of our social relationship with Los Angeles and other artists, artists who were friends started to ask whether they could actually donate a work or two to the collection. Tom and I had a conversation about it and we decided that of course we have to open it up to others. Then very soon after that the AIDS epidemic hit us. We were given a lot of our artwork from artists who were dying, and we were also given their archives. So it grew quite fast. We got established and collectors left their works to us, sometimes 500 works from a collection. So the variety of artists that we have in our collection is quite broad.

SRS: I think on Tom’s bucket list, was to make a fine art book.

DD: Yes.

SRS: So now there was also a non-profit entity and Tom was very hands on with the first edition, which was creating a fine art publication. It was certainly a dream of Tom’s.

DD: So it was called Retrospective (1988). And we self-published it and distributed it worldwide. And it sold 40,000 copies.

AF: Are there any selection criteria for the work which you collect, or is donated, and which works do you choose to archive?

SRS I don’t think that we deliberately position ourselves to censor anything. That’s not really our job as archivists—it is not to place value on the works. There’s an enormous amount of social value and historical value and because we’re at this point in history and who knows what will happen next? We try to be as broad as we possibly can in terms of technique, and in terms of time periods—everything has value.

DD: We are an archive because what we are doing is documenting different eras of time within a culture. But we’re also a museum, which means that we actually select what we show on our walls and also what we have sent to Europe. For the upcoming exhibition, we worked together with Paris-based organization The Community, they came and explored the Foundation. I opened up as many drawers and books as I could. And they had their wish list. So collectively we came up with what we think really shows the past and the present. Like nowadays, we’re nurturing artists in residence here, and they usually give us one of their works when they leave.

SRS: We also have had many emerging erotic artist contests and we wanted to make sure they were represented in this exhibition [in Venice]. We were able to call upon many artists. And I think that most artists have created an erotic doodle, at some point in their lives! Our idea with the contest is to attract these people. People who’ve never shared their erotic work with anyone, maybe even their friends haven’t seen it. They may be from a remote part of the world, but the thing is we try to draw these people out so they can share their ideas, their artwork, and their unique fantasies too. We’ve had an enormous response and lots of submissions that we had to go through. We also wanted to make sure some emerging artists were shown in this exhibition as well. 8th May 2022 we announced our next Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition from Paris.

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TOM OF FINLAND EMERGING ARTIST COMPETITION 2022

TOM OF FINLAND EMERGING ARTIST COMPETITION 2022 About the contest The purpose of this contest is twofold: to encourage artists to share their erotic work and to elevate the field of erotic art by rewarding some of the best current examples. The contest is open to any artist with the exception of previous winners of… View Article
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AllTogether

About the Exhibition Artists Venice Paris Catalogue Press About the Exhibition On the occasion of Tom of Finland’s birthday (8th May), Tom of Finland Foundation and The Community have curated a group exhibition, supported by Diesel, presenting Tom of Finland Foundation’s permanent collection. AllTogether explores the erotic art collection consisting of thousands of artworks, spanning… View Article
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Published: 8th July 2022

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