‘I almost gave up’: Tom of Finland exhibition to finally open in Japan

16th September 2020, 2:26 pm

Gallery rejections suggested residual squeamishness about depictions of gay sexuality in Japan

TOM OF FINLAND Untitled (From the Athletic Model Guild “Motorcycle Thief” series), 1964, Graphite on paper, 8.88” x 12.88”, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, ©1964 Tom of Finland Foundation

An exhibition opens for Tom’s centenary in Tokyo after two years of rejections from gallery owners.

After a fruitless two-year search for a venue, Shai Ohayon was on the verge of abandoning his dream of bringing the art of Tom of Finland to a Japanese audience. Not a single gallery, museum or public space in Tokyo shared his enthusiasm for the artist, whose sensual and erotic depictions of the male body reside in the permanent collections of major museums around the world.

“I was getting nowhere, and I almost gave up in desperation,” Ohayon, an Israeli-British curator and director of The Container in Tokyo, told the Guardian on the eve of the artist’s first exhibition in Japan. Even the support of Tom of Finland Foundation, the Embassy of Finland in Tokyo and the Finnish Institute in Japan failed to convince potential hosts.

For Ohayon, a Tokyo resident for 11 years, the rejections spoke to residual squeamishness about depictions of gay sexuality in Japan, despite its own tradition of erotic art and increasing awareness of LGBT rights. “It wasn’t overt homophobia per se,” Ohayon said. “That’s not very common in Japan. But people don’t like confrontation, and the easiest way to deal with it is to ignore it.

“Most places just didn’t respond – they didn’t want to say no. One person literally told me the works were ‘too gay’. Others were interested, but thought it was too risky. They said they were sorry, but they didn’t want to damage their image.”

TOM OF FINLAND Untitled (Athletic Model Guild Physique Pictorial May 1963 vol. 12 no. 4 p. 16), 1963, Graphite on paper, 12.44” x 9.38”, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, ©1963 Tom of Finland Foundation

His search ended with a chance introduction to the entertainment manager at Shibuya Parco, a shopping mall in Tokyo, who immediately agreed to host the exhibition. “I’m excited and happy that it’s finally happening” Ohayon said. “I had even begun to wonder if I should be involved, but in the end, I’m openly gay in Japan … I’ve never waved the gay flag, but the exhibition quickly became political. The fact that so many people opposed it has made it much more significant.”

Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland, which runs until 5th October at Parco’s Gallery X, features 30 works produced between 1946 to 1989, spanning the artist’s entire career. 

TOM OF FINLAND Untitled, 1947, Gouache on paper, 11.31” x 8.19”, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, ©1947 Tom of Finland Foundation

Tom of Finland, who died in 1991, produced more than 3,500 illustrations, drawings, woodblock prints, and paintings, but only a small number could be described as sexually explicit in this show. “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, while facing a legal and social reality they were fighting to change,” the Finnish Institute in Japan said.

The Institute has organised an auxiliary programme that includes a series of lectures about the artist. There will also be film screenings, a satellite exhibition of Japanese artists inspired by Tom of Finland.

“I want people to come along and take a look, and hope they leave with the feeling that it was fun, that it’s OK to be gay, to accept gay people, and to be gay yourself,” Ohayon said.

Stay tuned for a live-streamed virtual party from Parco’s rooftop on 25th September.

 

By Justin McCurry

 

 


“Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland”

18th Sep 2020 – 5th Oct 2020 @ 11:00 am – 9:00 pm –                                 Presented by Finnish Institute Japan, Embassy of Finland in Japan, Tom of Finland Foundation, The Container, and Parco   Curated by Shai Ohayon The exhibition features a selection of 30 historical works, ranging from 1946 to 1989, covering the […]

Tom of Finland lectures ONLINE

18th Sep 2020 – 5th Oct 2020 @ All Day –       6:00-7:30p (Toyko time) Lecture 1 hour followed by 1/2 hour Q&A                   Lectures are in English and interpreted into Japanese.   18th September The Heavenly Creatures of Lust – The Male Body made desirable in Tom of Finland’s Drawings Dr Juha-Heikki Tihinen / Curator, […]

“Tom of Finland” screenings

18th Sep 2020 – 24th Sep 2020 @ All Day –         Touko Laaksonen, a decorated officer, returns home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II, but life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds postwar Helsinki rampant with homophobic persecution, and men around him even being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko […]

“An Ode to Tom”

21st Sep 2020 – 30th Nov 2020 @ All Day –         Goh Mishima  |  Gengoroh Tagame  |  Jiraiya After many months of correspondence and virtual meetings with Durk Dehner, president of Tom of Finland Foundation, and his team, I was at last headed to meet face-to-face at TOM House—the office of the Foundation, a museum dedicated to Tom, and a residence to […]

The first exhibition in Japan of the works of the iconic Finnish artist Tom of Finland

  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, while facing a legal and social reality they were fighting to change. Delving into a world of fantasy, with sexual freedom, Tom depicted… View Article

Helsingin Sanomat reports on The Guardian article (lower right). The works of Tom of Finland will be finally exhibited also in Japan according to The Guardian. A suitable exhibition space was researched for for two years. Curator Shal Ohayon tells that the museums in Tokyo were not interested in it. Not even the support by the Finnish Embassy in Tokyo didn’t seem to help. According to Ohayon the opposition to the exhibition tells about the difficulty to accept the descriptions of homosexual culture in contemporary Japanese society. The exhibition Reality and Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland will be shown at Parcon Gally X in Tokyo until October 5th.


Internationally well-known Finnish artist Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen, 1920-1991) will finally be shown in Japan, says The Guardian. There have been major bends in the journey of the exhibition, which at times seemed insurmountable, says the organizer and curator of the exhibition, Shai Ohayon. Tom of Finland Foundation page explains that homosexuality has been… View Article


The (Homoerotic) World of Tom of Finland: Reality and Fantasy opens September 18th. First time Tom shows in Japan!

The exhibition, at GALLERY X, is the fruits of a collaboration between the Finnish Institute Japan, the Embassy of Finland in Japan, Tom of Finland Foundation, The Container gallery, and PARCO.

 

 

 


 

Published: 16th September 2020

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