Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play
The Pleasure of Play will be the most comprehensive Tom of Finland survey exhibition to date, including more than 190 drawings, gouaches from the 1940s, over 300 pages of collages, as well as early childhood work.
Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen; Finnish; 1920, Kaarina – 1991, Helsinki), is considered to be the most iconic gay artist of the 20th century. 25 years after his death, the wide-reaching cultural impact of his work, in comparison to his global status, has only been infrequently presented, examined or discussed.
TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991) Untitled, 1963, Graphite on paper, 13.63″ x 8.44″, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, © 1963 Tom of Finland Foundation
Tom of Finland’s 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. Starting from an early age, Tom played with the iconographic conventions upon which both the representation and the very conception of masculinity are based. His emblematic, larger-than-life drawn phalluses not only threaten the existing symbolic order of heterosexuality, but also reorganize the principles by which (homo-)sexual desires are structured. His fearless portrait of sexuality can also be read as a portrait of the sadomasochistic relationship that is at play between culture and sub-culture itself, an aspect that is as much present in his work, as it runs through gay culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as through his own biography.
A child of teachers, Tom grew up in rural Finland. At age 19 he enrolled in a distance learning advertising course. Soon drafted, he joined the Finnish Army in its fight against the Soviet invasion. After the war he stayed in Helsinki studying classical piano at the renowned Sibelius Academy. While at the Academy, he worked as freelance graphic designer, becoming later senior art director at the Helsinki branch of the global ad agency McCann Erickson. In 1973, after 17 years with the firm, he quit to be able to focus entirely on his own work. In the late 1970s, on one of his frequent visits to the US, he met Durk Dehner, with whom he founded Tom of Finland Foundation in 1984, based in Echo Park, Los Angeles.
Because of Tom of Finland’s compound status as artist and pop icon, his work has been admired by artists for many years. Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial jumpstarted Tom’s international career in 1957; Robert Mapplethorpe helped him get his first major gallery exhibition in New York in 1980; Mike Kelley invited Tom to speak at CalArts in 1988; Raymond Pettibon became a lifetime supporter of Tom of Finland Foundation; as did Richard Hawkins, who continues to work with the Foundation today.
Leading exhibition support provided by: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through its Curatorial Fellowship Program; The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, through its Mobius Fellowship Program; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin.
Tom of Finland Exhibition Supporters Circle: Philip Aarons & Shelley Fox-Aarons, Shane Akeroyd, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Nicoletta Fiorucci (Fiorucci Art Trust, London), Greene Naftali Gallery, Wade Guyton, Michaeljohn Horne, Robert Longo, Bjarne Melgaard, John Morace & Tom Kennedy, Lari Pittman, Jack Shear, Cindy Sherman, Brent Sikkema, Danh Vo, Jordan Wolfson, Mark Grotjahn & Jennifer Guidi, Ingar Dragset & Michael Elmgreen, Robert Gober & Donald Moffett.
Special thanks to Stefan Kalmár, John Morace and Richard Hawkins.
Founded in 1972, in Downtown New York, Artists Space has for four decades successfully contributed to changing the landscape for contemporary art – lending support to emerging artists and emerging ideas alike.
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor and 55 Walker Street
Opening reception will be held from 6:00pm until 8:00pm
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: Noon – 6:00pm
On view till 23rd August