LA showroom Austere’s exhibition of handmade rugs from the Swedish textile company Henzel Studio brings an elevated artistic eye to an item that’s usually underfoot. The show would not be complete without Tom of Finland’s unforgettable pieces.
At the Austere showroom in downtown Los Angeles, an exhibition of handmade rugs from the Swedish textile company Henzel Studio brings an elevated artistic eye to an item that’s usually underfoot. On view until 14 September, silk-and-wool pieces conceived by such art world luminaries as Juergen Teller and Nan Goldin are shown in the United States for the first time, alongside collaborative rugs and pillows from such creative forces as Assume Vivid Astro Focus and Bernhard Willhelm.
All part of an open-ended series that started with a piece by a master of traversing mediums, Richard Prince – and which also includes a capsule collection with the Tom of Finland Foundation– the tactile explorations highlight the directional possibilities in ancient fibre techniques. Working closely with a network of skilled artisans in Nepal, the rugs can take months to complete from the initial yarn spinning. Some recall 17th century tapestries in their detail. Others expand the notion of collage with variations in texture and lustre through surprising uses of pile heights and appliqué; these include a freeform black rug by Helmut Lang based on a small sculpture, and a Marilyn Minter rug from an image of shattered glass, both of which reveal themselves according to vantage point and lighting. At Austere, which brings an inquisitive, unorthodox approach to Scandinavia’s design heritage, the rugs are hung and laid throughout the two-floor space in a density recalling a bazaar, while also offering radical propositions in decorative textiles.
Working in an unexpected medium allows for new creative directions, explains Joakim Andreasson, curator of Henzel Studio’s collaborations. ‘I think the current systems that are at place within the higher echelon of art and design are not necessarily conducive to openness and creative exploration,’ he says, noting that Henzel founder Calle Henzel has long pushed the boundaries of material mastery in his own work.
‘This project is more subjective than what can be summed up in a manifesto,’ Andreasson concludes. ‘If anything, the mission was to create a sense of freedom, where the artists were free to disregard design movements and related principles and rules, and where practicality was secondary to concept.’
By Su Wu
What can be said about Touko Laaksonen that hasn’t already been said? His artistic output in myriad forms, unleashed over the last 50 or so years has had groundbreaking impact on global culture. His artwork has been censored on a massive scale; an eponymous fashion line based on his work has graced many catwalks; his drawings are part of the collections of major institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; he’s been referred to as one of the “five most influential artists of the twentieth century.”
TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1986, Graphite on paper, 16.50” x 12.25”, © 1986 Tom of Finland Foundation
Laaksonen, known to the world as Tom of Finland, has been called a hero and a pervert but in his native Finland, he’s a national hero. After his passing in 1991, a documentary about his life, titled Daddy and the Muscle Academy: The Life and Art of Tom of Finland, was shown on Finnish national TV and was later shown at film festivals worldwide.
The work is 100% erotic, but there’s no denying the political weight that lies inherently in his earlier work; indeed his drawings in the ’50s and early ’60s were influenced strongly by US censorship codes and were mostly deemed obscene. In 1962, in the case of MANual Enterprises v. Day, the US Supreme Court ruled that photos of men in the nude were not profane. After that, the context changed; artistically Laaksonen could veer into new territories and publicly show what up until then only private collectors had had access to: much more suggestive – well, let’s face it – straight up pornographic – imagery.
You’d be hard pressed not to have some sort of association with Tom of Finland. But if for some reason this is the first you’re hearing of him, be assured: his hold on popular culture as we know it is VAST. There’s a saying: Before there was Gucci or Gaultier, there was Tom of Finland. ToF drawings were featuring men in military uniforms 2 or 3 sizes too small way back in the early ’50s. His subsequent interests in biker, sailor, beachboy and businessmen culture have been an endless source of inspiration for fashion designers throughout the last five decades.
Icon status is an understatement where Tom of Finland is concerned.
COMPLETE ARTICLE BY JOHNNY MISHEFF
ON VIEW THROUGH 14th SEPTEMBER
The exhibition marks the United States debut of art rugs by Nan Goldin, Richard Phillips, Juergen Teller and Bernhard Willhelm, as well as a capsule collection dedicated to Tom of Finland. Art pillows complement the collection. ￼
Exclusive goods by Henzel Studio, État Libre d’Orange, Finlayson, The Posters, Rufskin and Tom of Finland Pleasure Tools.
912 SOUTH HILL STREET DTLA 90015