Graeme Flegenheimer, curator behind TOM House: The Work and Life of Tom of Finland [on view through 27th May] resolved this conundrum by levering the artist’s rich creative and personal relationships to present a novel study of Tom, artist and man. Realized in collaboration with Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead at MOCAD, the exhibition explores the value and influence of Tom’s network of collaborators, admirers and supporters. These individuals are often left unacknowledged, but Flegenheimer reminds us that artists do not exist in a vacuum, and are instead the product of a complex web of influences and support systems. For Tom, this included artists like Richard Hawkins, Robert Mapplethorpe, Raymond Pettibon, Jim Shaw, and John Waters, all of which are represented in the exhibition. The presentation also includes photographs, reference material, and ephemera, within a space that is designed to evoke the spirit of TOM House in Echo Park, Los Angeles.
How did you get involved with TOM House? I personally am a huge fan and the historical landmark pin— what is that collaboration like? Will it be ongoing?
Our first collaboration was with Stuart Sandford, a resident artist of TOM House, and he introduced us to the crew there. The historical landmark pin is a memento of a piece of history. TOM House has created so many opportunities for gay artists and we think it’s really cool to be able to own a piece of that. We would love to keep those collabs going and find new ways to transform the TOM House legacy into pin form.
Tom of Finland, which follows the life of Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland, from the trenches of WWII through the repression of the 1950s to the advancement of gay liberation, will be screened Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 13 and 14 at 11 a.m. The Jan. 10 screening will include a wine reception before the film and a Q&A after the movie at the Art Theatre of Long Beach.
Organizers at the Q Film Festival, which spotlights LGBTQ films and is produced by the Long Beach LGBTQ Center, wanted to schedule Chavela and Tom of Finland during the September movie showcase, but the films were not available, said Robert Cano, who programmed the two films and is the founder of the Festival.
Tom first came to Los Angeles in 1978 to showcase his artwork in a solo exhibition. The success of the show led him to become a frequent traveler to the region. The erotic at pioneer lived in a two-story Craftsman house in Echo Park, owned by Durk Dehner, who invited Tom to use the home as his local studio and residence. Tom also used the house to escape the cold Finnish winters.
TOM OF FINLAND FOUNDATION
In 1984, Tom and Durk spearheaded Tom of Finland Foundation in the house to catalog his work and to provide a safe space for artists facing discrimination and misrepresentation due to the erotic nature of their work.
In July 2016, the Foundation nominated the Tom of Finland House at 1421 Laveta Terrace for designation as an Historic-Cultural Monument. Four months later, the Los Angeles City Council approved the nomination.