This Spring, All About Robert Mapplethorpe and Tom of Finland

From left: an homage to Tom House by the artist Webster; Robert Mapplethorpe. Credit From left: Martyn Thompson; Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation/Courtesy of HBO.

From left: an homage to TOM House by the artist Carrington Galen; Robert Mapplethorpe. Credit From left: Martyn Thompson; Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation/Courtesy of HBO.

In her memoir “Just Kids,” Patti Smith recounts a day in the 1960s when she and her then-boyfriend Robert Mapplethorpe scoured the used-paperback stalls of Times Square, looking for inspiration. “Robert,” she writes, “found a few loose pages from a portfolio of sketches of Aryan boys in motorcycle caps by Tom of Finland.” Touko “Tom of Finland” Laaksonen’s work — stylized drawings of hypermasculine gay figures that turned postwar gay stereotypes on their head — would come to have a great impact on Mapplethorpe’s famously explicit photographs of male nudes, which were at the center of the culture war of the late ’80s and early ’90s. (Jesse Helms famously waved them on the Senate floor as an argument against public funding for the arts.)

This spring sees homages to both men, who eventually became friends. Beginning next month, a gargantuan two-part Mapplethorpe retrospective is on view at the Getty and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through July; a documentary called “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” premieres on HBO in April 4; and a new book, “TOM HOUSE” (Rizzoli, $55), documents Laaksonen’s historic Los Angeles home, which was not only where the artist lived and worked over the last decade of his life, but also the nexus of a gay biker counterculture — in some ways, a setting where the artist’s work could come to life.

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Touko “Tom of Finland” Laaksonen was 58 when he met his protégé Durk Dehner, then 28. This photo of the two of them was taken at a fundraiser for the Foundation at the Eagle in San Francisco, in 1985. Credit: Robert Pruzan

A book signing for “TOM HOUSE: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles” takes place March 12 from 4 to 6 p.m. at David Kordansky Gallery, tomoffinlandhouse.com. “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium” is on view March 15-July 31 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, getty.edu, and March 20-July 31 at Lacma, lacma.org.

By Tom DelavanTimesStyleMagazine

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The Best in Art of 2015

The co-chief art critics for The New York Times on the most notable themes of the year.

Alternative Spaces

In the city’s busy alternative spaces, art history continued to expand. Artists Space immersed us in the achievement of Tom of Finland, the Ingres of 20th-century homoerotic art, and his bounty of popular-culture source materials.

An untitled Tom of Finland work from 1975. With his images of buff gay men, the artist all but invented the hypermasculine “clone” look of the 1970s, with its defining wardrobe of leather and jeans. Tom of Finland Foundation, Permanent Collection

An untitled Tom of Finland work from 1975. With his images of buff gay men, the artist all but invented the hypermasculine “clone” look of the 1970s, with its defining wardrobe of leather and jeans. Tom of Finland Foundation, Permanent Collection

Complete list by Holland Cotter and Roberta SmithThe New York Times logo

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Tom of Finland’s Hypermasculine Gay Images in “The Pleasure of Play”

For several decades, beginning in the 1950s, Touko Laaksonen, a corporate advertising designer based in Helsinki, moonlighted as a pornographic draftsman named Tom of Finland.

Working primarily in the medium of graphite drawing, he created a visual world of pneumatically buff, spectacularly well-endowed men, who — dressed as lumberjacks, truck drivers, soldiers, bikers, or not at all — met in complicated, often multiparty sexual congress. The action could get rough, but the drawing was always smooth — fine-lined, subtly shaded — and the faces of the participants almost invariably sunny.

The work, widely circulated in printed formats, has been exhibited sporadically in New York galleries, but never in the quantity, or with the historical perspective, afforded by the current two-site Artists Space show, split between a survey of almost 200 drawings at 38 Greene Street and a display of supplementary material (mostly collages) at 55 Walker Street.

An untitled Tom of Finland work from 1975. With his images of buff gay men, the artist all but invented the hypermasculine “clone” look of the 1970s, with its defining wardrobe of leather and jeans. Tom of Finland Foundation, Permanent Collection

An untitled Tom of Finland work from 1975. With his images of buff gay men, the artist all but invented the hypermasculine “clone” look of the 1970s, with its defining wardrobe of leather and jeans. Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection

Mr. Laaksonen, who died in 1991, was forthright about his reasons for making his work: In addition to giving expression to his personal fantasies, he wanted to produce an image of gay men that counteracted the atmosphere of oppression and the stereotypes of effeminacy he had grown up with. In the process, he all but invented the hypermasculine “clone” look of the 1970s, with its defining wardrobe of leather and jeans.

Still, for the influential role he played in bringing us here, to a freer, queerer place, this artist deserves deep thanks. Seen in more intimate settings, his art can still inspire its intended delights.

Complete article by Holland CotterThe New York Times logo

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