Chiselled torsos, bulging cocks, muscly thighs drenched in tight-fitting leather and butch uniforms galore. The universe Tom of Finland created is one that’s sexually charged, free of inhibition, and radical in all senses. Beginning to create works through the 1960s, when homosexuality and male nudity was still criminalised worldwide, Finland’s back catalogue – first published in erotic mags like Physique Pictorial, and secretly sent to fans globally via post – would go on to inspire a legion queer artist putting brazen sexuality at the core of their work.
One creative who credits the work of Tom of Finland in guiding him in unpacking his own sexuality is super designer and Diesel’s head honcho Glenn Martens, who is proudly supporting a new twin exhibition curated by the Tom of Finland Foundation and The Community. Launching in conjunction with Venice Biennale, AllTogether is the first exhibition to put Tom of Finland Foundation’s permanent collection of queer art on display outside of Los Angeles. A group exhibition featuring the work of 80 artists, chosen with the guidance of the Foundation’s Community of fans, AllTogether will house works from the likes of Bob Mizer, Matt Lambert, Hiroshi Shimoyama and Teddy of Paris in Studio Cannaregio in Venice, with a second show opening at The Community Centre in Paris on May 8, Tom of Finland’s birthday.
Here, Martens joins Durk Dehner, co-founder of the Tom of Finland Foundation, to discuss the artist’s legacy, putting the exhibition together and the importance of the Foundation’s work today.
George Quaintance ‘Siesta’, 1952, Lithograph on paper, 22.50″ (57.15cm) x 17.50″ (44.45cm) (Framed)
How was it working together on the exhibition?
Glenn Martens: It’s been an honour for me to work with Durk and Tom of Finland Foundation as they have been an example for the LGBTQIA+ community for such a long time. Tom of Finland Foundation and The Community have of course curated the exhibition since it wasn’t something a fashion brand could take the lead of, but it’s the role of a fashion brand to give a platform to these important institutions, and we are extremely proud to give the support to Durk and ToFF and celebrate this together.
Durk Dehner: It has been amazing, [Glenn] saw the potential and expanded the exhibition into two exhibitions happening almost simultaneously. One in Venice, the other in Paris. Then doing a capsule collection using several of the artists in the exhibition was so smart. We, of course, are very fortunate.
This exhibition has been a long time in the making. What prompted you to create the show in the first place?
Durk Dehner: It had always been a dream of Tom and I that one day the greater world would get a chance to appreciate the expanse of creative genius that resides within queer artists and how they embrace sexuality so naturally. It was The Community who visited TOM House [Tom of Finland Foundation’s base in LA] for a tour and realised what a treasure throve of art we have collected, and approached us with their desire to do an exhibition in Paris. Destiny calls when the time is right, [the exhibitions] are a coming together in celebration of mankind, honouring our sexual selves.
Annie Sprinkle ‘Tit Print’, 1992, Mono print, inked breast impression on paper, 23.88″ (60.64cm) x 20.75″ (52.71cm) (Framed)
Can you remember when you first became exposed to Tom of Finland’s work?
Glenn Martens: The art of Tom of Finland helped me and so many people create acceptance of sexuality and community. Tom was one of the first internationally known gay artists to have an impact on the growth of young adults.
What place do you think erotic art has in contemporary society?
Durk Dehner: It has always been our mission for work that is erotic in nature to be seen as “contemporary art” as it has with Tom of Finland. Collectors should engage with the artist and seek out their stories – all of this is what they are bringing into their lives. One is reminded every time we are face-to-face with an artwork that we are creatures that are sexual. It’s not just about having sex, it is part of our humanity and something we can be positive about.
Glenn Martens: Being sex-positive should not be ashamed or blamed. It is about feeling loved with happiness and joy, so having visuals which are confirming this attitude – within respect and love, of course – can only help people enjoy their lives better and have a successful way of living.
Goh Mishima Untitled c1980, Pastel, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper, 13.75″ (34.93cm) x 9.75″ (24.77cm)
Why is the work of the Tom of Finland Foundation so vital?
Glenn Martens: On top of collecting amazing art, the Foundation is also a symbol of community, acceptance, and feeling together. They have worked extremely hard to have been present during the HIV/AIDS crisis, helping lots of queer artists. Thanks to the Foundation, for example in the past, when marginalised young gay people were dying by themselves, they could find a way of talking through art. In even more recent times, the Foundation hosted persecuted artists who could not be themselves in their own country or in society, providing them with a safe place through the art but also physically with residencies and fighting alongside them for LGBTQIA+ rights.
What do you hope people take away from the show?
Durk Dehner: First of all a smile on their faces, and to realise that beauty is to behold – that they are capable of expanding their appreciation, and that collectively builds a more tolerant society.
Glenn Martens: I hope that people are aware of the fact that the haven of the cities where they live, like London, Milan, and NY – cities where they can be themselves and where the LGBTQIA+ community can live in peace – is the work of many generations of activists and artists who have helped create a certain part of the society as a place of acceptance. This battle is not won yet, but we will make it.
Top artwork: Tom of Finland Untitled (preparatory), 1989, Graphite on paper, 17.00″ (43.18cm) x 14.75″ (37.47cm) (Framed), ©Tom of Finland Foundation. ‘AllTogether’ is open at Studio Cannaregio in Venice until June 26. A second exhibition opens at The Community Centre in Paris on May 8 – June 26.
Michael Kirwan ‘Finally’, 2012, Markers on paper, 12.63″(32.08cm)x9.50″(24.13cm)
Bastille ‘L’atelier’, 1982, Gouache on paper, 13.13” (33.35cm) x 9.63» (24.46cm) (Framed)
Tom of Finland Untitled, c.1966-1990, Cut-and-pasted paper on paper, 11.25″ (28.58cm) x 8.25″ (20.96cm), ©Tom of Finland Foundation