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Tom of Finland Meets Mike Kelley

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1959, Graphite on paper, 11.06” x 8.50”, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, © 1988 Tom of Finland Foundation. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

For much of his last decade, Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland, the Finnish-born master of homoerotic art, lived in Los Angeles, where he produced his signature drawings of leather-clad bikers and tightly uniformed cops at his Craftsman-style home in Echo Park. Opening this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the intimate exhibition TOM House: The Work and Life of Tom of Finland will give visitors a glimpse of the artist’s former home and studio, bringing together over 200 works and objects. Rare sketches (including his last preparatory drawing from 1991, the year that he died) are displayed side-by-side with personal effects, like childhood prints from the 1920s, an illustrated condom packet and Laaksonen’s leather Harley cap. “I would imagine this exhibition will bring joy and lots of pleasure,” said Durk Dehner, the co-founder and president of the Tom of Finland Foundation.

The show also creates a cross-generational dialogue by incorporating the works of artists who were inspired by Laaksonen’s avant-garde, queer aesthetics: from Robert Mapplethorpe and Jim Shaw to Jess Scott and Raymond Pettibon. Also in conversation with Laaksonen is the late American artist Mike Kelley, whose Mobile Homestead (a permanent, public-art project replicating his childhood home) provides an appropriately domestic setting for the show. “What a pair of bad boys,” the director John Waters, also featured in the exhibition, told T. “One straight. One gay. Both crooked.”

On view from April 19 to May 19 at Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Avenue, Detroit.

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By Benoît Loiseau

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