Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play
JUNE 14 – SEPTEMBER 13, 2015
ARTISTS SPACE, NEW YORK CITY
The Pleasure of Play is the most comprehensive Tom of Finland survey exhibit onto date, spanning six decades to include more than 180 drawings, 1930s childhood paper dolls, the full set of 1940s gouaches along with triptychs, individual drawings, storyboards and over 300 reference pages. The exhibition is curated by Stefan Kalmár.
Touko Laaksonen’s, aka Tom of Finland’s (1920, Kaarina – 1991, Helsinki) biography parallels pivotal moments of 20th century (gay) history, bearing witness to the disasters, the turmoil and the radical changes that took place during his lifetime. Indeed, his work stands in dialectical relationship to these events and the often oppressive culture that surrounded him.
Working from 1956 to 1973 as senior art director at one of the first global advertising agencies, it is likely that Tom of Finland had access to a range of global mainstream publications as well as illegally published early gay magazines – both from which he would meticulously cut out details and compose on single pages to later use as studies, or as he called them, reference pages.
It is telling that many of these cutouts are taken from global print campaigns; Tom of Finland seemingly studying and taking apart the representations of maleness and gender-assigned attributes in mainstream media, and fusing them with cutouts from gay periodicals. Originally separated into binders, the majority of these collages were sorted by distinct taxonomies: leather jackets, motorcycles, uniforms, beards, hairdos and so forth. On rare occasions he also drew directly onto these cutouts, to either amplify or reduce the existing attributes.
In some respects the collages are key to an understanding of Tom of Finland’s work. During the day (at least until 1973), as an acclaimed advertising executive Tom of Finland was involved hands-on in creating the hetero-normative vision of the happy suburban familyof the late 1950s; while at night, he would cut up the very basis of his own work (print advertising) to study, to analyze and to categorize – turning these reference pages towards the exact opposite of their origin. One aspect of Tom of Finland’s drawings is that the faces of his protagonists feature a familiar, recognizable likeness – these bold, grinning faces, while in the act of sadomasochistic play, present a fearless vision of sexuality pointing towards the culture that constructed the relationship between sexuality and fear in the first place.
Finnish Cultural Institute in New York supported the exhibition project through its Mobius Fellowship Program and enabled Curator Stefan Kalmár a research period in Helsinki in March, 2015. Kalmár's and Artists Space's Mobius partnering organization in Helsinki is Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.
MOBIUS is a fellowship program for visual arts, museum and archive professionals based in New York, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Finland. The program enables transatlantic mobility and collaborative practices and supports long-lasting professional relationships.