The L.A. museum welcomes an exhibit featuring the work of Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland


Western artists have long considered portrayals of the ideal male physique to be a deserved focus of aesthetics. In Ancient Greece, Lysippos of Sikyon’s most recognizable sculpture, Apoxyomenos (aka The Scraper), depicts a nude athlete scraping oil from his body after exercising. The muscle-toned youth exhibits a chiastic stance echoed in nude male statuary through the centuries, most notably in Michelangelo’s most famous work, David.

The idealized masculine image, however, isn’t confined to classical sculpture. Over the ages, portrayals of strapping, disrobed young men have featured prominently in paintings as well, evidenced by the oeuvre of Thomas Eakins, a 19th century Philadelphia-based artist whose work frequently showcased his male students sunbathing in the buff.

The pendulum of art—like the history which produces it—constantly swings from liberalism to conservatism. Its blade regularly vacillates between an exaltation of the male form and the form’s condemnation. Often during these darker, sexually repressed eras, fields of creativity would suffer from suppression and censorship. During the Middle Ages, for instance, the Vatican castrated numerous statues, including the aforementioned Apoxyomenos, replacing statues’ phalluses with sexually neutral fig leaves.

This mentality of unease towards homoerotic imagery permeated Puritan-influenced American culture, and it was within a climate of homo-repression that artistic rebels like Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland flourished.

Considered pioneers of the 20th century male nude, both artists will be showcased in The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ new exhibit, Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland, the first American museum exhibition devoted to the works of Mizer (1922-92) and Touko Laaksonen (1920-91), the man behind the Tom of Finland name.

 Bob Mizer, Physique Pictorial, Volume 7, Number 1; 1957; Publication; Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc. Artwork by Tom of Finland © 1957 Tom of Finland Foundation, Inc.

Bob Mizer, Physique Pictorial, Volume 7, Number 1; 1957; Publication; Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc. Artwork by Tom of Finland © 1957 Tom of Finland Foundation, Inc.

Adopting the pseudonym Tom of Finland for English-speaking audiences, Laaksonen regularly contributed to Physique Pictorial, his artwork first gracing the magazine’s cover in 1957 with a drawing of muscular lumberjacks at work. These libidinous log-drivers are but one example of Laaksonen usurping archetypically heterosexual personae and recasting them in a homoerotic light. At the time, gay men were generally portrayed as effeminate in films and vaudevillian theater. Laaksonen challenged this narrow-minded, homophobic perspective by cultivating the homo-masculine potential of cops, cowboys, sailors and, most prominently, bikers. Laaksonen’s renditions of the latter are what inspired our modern day leather movement.

Curated by Bennett Simpson and guest co-curator Richard Hawkins, the MOCA show features a selection of Laaksonen’s iconic and masterful drawings, collages and books, juxtaposed with Mizer’s photographs, films and a collection of his groundbreaking magazine, Physique Pictorial. Presented in collaboration with the Bob Mizer Foundation and the Tom of Finland Foundation, the exhibit seeks a wider appreciation for Mizer and Laaksonen’s art, considering their aesthetic influence on generations of artists, both gay and straight, while also acknowledging the artists’ profound cultural and social impact, most importantly in providing open, powerful imagery of queer sexuality in an era of rapidly shifting attitudes towards homosexuality.

“There’s a joyful, celebratory and sex-positive aspect to Mizer’s photographs and Tom’s drawings,” says Hawkins. “Both artists began working and publishing 20 years before Stonewall, so we know very clearly that they were ahead of their time. But I would like to think that they actually helped create a time.”

“Tom of Finland can be considered the forefather of the leather community,” says Hawkins, “in that he single-handedly perfected—through his own meldings of the sexiest aspects of biker and military leathers—what we can now readily identify as leather and fetish gear. But, in addition to that, Tom was able to create characters who were devout and self-confident enthusiasts of gay sex without even a hint of shame. In that sense, the work can be considered militant … as well as hot.“

Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland is exhibited at
MOCA Pacific Design Center Nov. 2 – Jan. 26.




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Boots, biceps and bulges

ToFF_Signature - Trademark

The late Touko Laaksonen, the Finnish artist also known as “Tom of Finland,” probably did more to push gay male erotic images into the mainstream than anyone else in the 20th century. His illustrations were designed to inspire lust and to erase the boundary between art and pornography. They also helped re-create happier, hornier self-images for many gay men in the 1970s with their fantasies of muscular masculinity, confidence and outsize sexual achievement. One documentary short film, Boots, Biceps and Bulges: The Life & Works of Tom of Finland, arrived in the late 1980s, while 1990’s Daddy and The Muscle Academy was an LGBT film festival staple in its moment, just as Tom himself was dying at age 71.

Now a biopic currently titled Tom of Finland is in production, ready to tell the story of the sexual and artistic pioneer. Finnish director Dome Karukoski will helm the feature, which has yet to be cast. And it has the official, authorized blessing of the Tom of Finland Foundation, so as extremely hot men find their way into the cast, you’ll hear about it here first.



Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland exhibition


Il Pacific Design Center del MOCA di Los Angeles apre le porte a Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland, mostra organizzata dal curatore del museo Bennett Simpson e da Richard Hawkins (co-curatore dell’evento).

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled (Detail), 1968, Graphite on paper, 12.94” x 9.38”, ToFF Cat. #68.06, Collection of Volker Morlock, © 1968 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled (Detail), 1968, Graphite on paper, 12.94” x 9.38”, ToFF Cat. #68.06, Collection of Volker Morlock, © 1968 Tom of Finland Foundation

Il progetto rivolge l’attenzione a due pionieri dell’arte omoerotica del ventesimo secolo nonché precursori della cultura gay durante il periodo post bellico. Bob Mizer, editore della storica rivista omosessuale Physique Pictoriale, fotografo la cui peculiarità era riuscire a cogliere la nudità maschile senza vergogna, con estrema libertà e ironia, tanto da essere considerato colui il quale ha aperto la strada alla rivoluzione sessuale.

Though Laaksonen, noto con il nome d’arte Tom of Finland, era invece un illustratore finlandese che rielaborava i modelli simbolo della virilità maschile e della cultura omofoba in chiave fantastica, rendendoli l’emblema dell’orgoglio gay; le sue raffigurazioni sono considerate le fondamenta, all’epoca emergente, della leather gay culture. I due hanno lavorato insieme per la rivista di Mizer, Physique Pictoriale, infatti l’esposizione oltre che una selezione delle migliori illustrazioni di Tom of Finland e alcune opere inedite di Bob Mizer quali film, collage e cataloghi, comprenderàanche una collezione di copertine ripescate direttamente dall’archivio di Physique Pictorial, disegnate ai tempi da Tom e pubblicate per la prima volta nel 1957.

La mostra che inaugura il 2 novembre 2013 resterà aperta al pubblico fino al 26 Gennaio 2014.