An exhibition that explores the life of Touko Laaksonen, also known as Tom of Finland (1920–1991), is on display at the Studio at Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art. The exhibition also shines a light on the music-filled life that preceded Laaksonen’s career as an artist.
Music was one of the greatest loves of Laaksonen’s life. Choir music was played in his childhood home because his father, schoolteacher Edvin Laaksonen, was also the leader of the mixed choir Kulkuset. Touko sang well as a young boy, but playing the piano took precedence in the end. Laaksonen’s plans for a future in music gained confirmation during the Continuation War, when he set up a choir with the men in his battery and accompanied their singing with a piano he had purchased. After the war, he completed the studies in advertising that he had already begun after graduating from upper secondary school, after which he began studying at the Sibelius Academy in January 1945.
The life story of both Touko Laaksonen and Tom – as told through photographs and works created in different decades – is also a piece of the story of the 100 years of Finland’s independence. Laaksonen was born in 1920, the year the Treaty of Tartu was signed. He was 12 years old when the Mäntsälä rebellion took place and graduated from upper secondary school in the shadow of the Winter War. In spring 1940, he began his military service, which extended to almost five years because of the outbreak of the Continuation War in summer 1941. He was demobilised on 17 November 1944 as a lieutenant who had been awarded the Cross of Liberty of the Order of the Cross of Liberty, 4th Class.
Tom of Finland’s merits as the most internationally recognised Finnish artist and as a pioneer of homoerotic art are well-known and recognised. November 2016 marked 25 years since the artist’s death, and to this day – or not until now – he continues to baffle viewers with his unhesitatingly straightforward art, which can now finally be displayed in a museum setting. In contrast, the artist himself was an outlaw and his art shunned around the time the works were created.
The exhibition reveals Laaksonen’s life before his career as an artist. There’s donations from Tom of Finland Foundation. Co-founder of the Foundation and the president Durk Dehner was pleased with what he saw:
I am very pleased to see these works here. Finland has finally learned to appreciate Touko Laaksonen and Tom of Finland’s heritage.