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Censorship a Theme at Erotic Arts Fair

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Councilmember Abbe Land and Mayor John Heilman officially open the Erotic Arts Fair at West Hollywood Park.
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Councilmember Abbe Land and Mayor John Heilman officially open the Erotic Arts Fair at West Hollywood Park. Credit JamesF.Mills
Drag nuns, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, were on hand as part of the official opening ceremony. Credit JamesF.Mills
Michael Thorn, editor-in-chief of Instigator Magazine, weighs in on the censorship debate. Credit JamesF.Mills
Bo Tobin of Tom of Finland Foundation offers his insight on the censorship discussion. Credit JamesF.Mills

At the event this weekend, LGBT community members discuss public homoerotic imagery and where the city of West Hollywood fits in.

By James F. Mills | Email the author | March 27, 2011

Censorship was the talk of the 16th annual Tom of Finland Erotic Arts Fair, which opened its two-day exhibition at West Hollywood Park Auditorium on Saturday. Dozens of exhibitors displayed their erotically themed artwork, while hundreds of people came through to see and purchase it.

Dedicated to preserving and exhibiting erotic art, Los-Angeles-based Tom of Finland puts on the fair each year.

Despite years of city sponsorship, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC) voted in January not to sponsor the art fair. One reason given was that the event would be taking place in the park “where there are children.”

Dan Berkowitz, co-chair of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and a former president of the Tom of Finland Foundation, was present at the ACAC meeting.

“The most alarming thing is none of the people on that commission are our enemies. They are one of us,” Berkowitz said. “When the LGBT community is attempting to censor its own … things are really in trouble.”

The vote provoked outrage across the gay community with cries that the gay community had gotten too far from its roots where homoerotic imagery was encouraged.

The City Council quickly moved to approve sponsorship of the arts fair. The event went on as scheduled, but not everyone was supportive.

Bo Tobin of the Tom of Finland Foundation reported that the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center declined to put up posters promoting the Erotic Arts Fair. Tobin said center workers were concerned about the poster containing the image of Michelangelo’s “David” and the use of the word “erotic.”

With censorship on everyone’s minds, the fair held a symposium Saturday afternoon titled: “Is Self-Censorship Really Self-Loathing in Gay Culture?”

Artist Michael Kirwan called the censorship controversy just part of a larger problem in the LGBT community.

“How can we be gay men without expressing our sexuality?” asked Kirwan. “Arts have always been a way for people with minds of courage to express themselves . . . allowing the most needy among us to commandeer our community.”

Berkowitz believes the problem is more insidious than censorship.

“We are all becoming victims of our success in mainstreaming gay culture,” he said. “Bare chaps may be OK in Silver Lake, but they’re not OK in La Jolla.”

Longtime activist Ivy Bottini, also a member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, believes the gay community has allowed larger organizations to take over what smaller, grass-roots groups once did.

“We have become a community of check writers,” she said. “We used to do protests in the streets. Unless we get off our butts, bare or not, we are digging our own graves.”

Bottini believes that in the push for same-sex marriage, the LGBT community has been cleaned up for better presentation to the rest of society. And by cleaning up, many on the edge are being left out.

Michael Thorn, editor-in-chief of Instigator magazine, agreed, saying that corporate sponsorship of gay pride has diluted pride because the companies want to clean things up and get rid of the rough edges.

“Everybody’s got a right to be normal, but there is something even better about not being normal,” said Tobin.

Later in the afternoon, Mayor John Heilman and Councilwoman Abbe Land came to officially open the arts fair. Fair organizers thanked Heilman and Land for the city gifting them the use of the auditorium. Heilman replied that it was not a gift from the city, but rather “it’s a gift to us to have you here.”

Heilman said he hoped the Erotic Arts Fair would continue to be in West Hollywood for years to come and added that he would do anything possible to make sure it stays in the city.

Land commented on how thrilled she has been over the years to see the fair grow, first in Plummer Park and now in West Hollywood Park. Noticing how the entire auditorium was filled with artists and exhibitors, Land added, “We need to find a bigger venue for you.”

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LA Weekly Blog about Erotic Art Fair Controversy

Despite Controversy, No Children Harmed at Tom of Finland’s West
Hollywood Erotic Art Fair

By Patrick Range McDonald, Mon., Mar. 28 2011 @ 1:15PM
Physical Pictorial.jpg
Issues of “Physique Pictorial” were sold at WeHo-LA Erotic Art Fair

The 16th Annual West Hollywood – Los Angeles Erotic Art Fair went off without a hitch this past weekend, and the kids, as far as we know, are perfectly alright.

Earlier in the year, members of the West Hollywood Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission refused to put their seal of approval on the event, saying that children could somehow be harmed.

The commission’s decision stunned the gay community in Los Angeles and caused an uproar.

West Hollywood City Council members eventually overrode the commission, allowing the erotic art fair, which is sponsored by the Tom of Finland Foundation, to take place at West Hollywood Park Auditorium.

West Hollywood Patch reporter James Mills notes that folks at the fair were still concerned about the controversy.

“The most alarming thing is none of the people on that commission are our enemies. They are one of us,” Dan Berkowitz, co-chair of the West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and a former president of the Tom of Finland Foundation, told WeHo Patch. “When the LGBT community is attempting to censor its own … things are really in trouble.”

Commission members are appointed to their posts by West Hollywood City Council members John Heilman, Abbe Land, John Duran, Jeff Prang, and John D’Amico.

During the recent West Hollywood City Council race, longtime incumbents John Heilman and Abbe Land, who were running for re-election when the erotic art fair controversy broke out, were criticized for helping to de-gay West Hollywood.

The city’s poor handling of the erotic art fair was cited as an example by critics.

This weekend, Heilman and Land made personal appearances at the fair, which featured many drawings and paintings of naked men.

Original issues of old school gay magazines from the early 1960s such as Physique Pictorial were also for sale.

The crowd was made up of mostly gay men in their thirties, forties, and older, with volunteers always standing outside the doors leading into the fair.

The few children who live in West Hollywood — U.S. Census figures show the city is not, and has never been, a place filled with kids — were not allowed anywhere near the auditorium.

There have been no public reports of anyone being offended by the erotic art fair.

Mr. L.A. Leather 2011 Leo Iriarte, however, did make a triumphant appearance.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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