“¿ Created Equal?” is a 2004 photograph by J.D.
Dragan, featuring an African Puerto Rican man, Marco Diaz, in
handcuffs, an American flag draped over one arm. The image was
featured at the Erotic Arts Fair and conveys the powerful theme of a
gay man of color whose virility and sexual consciousness are
shackled by societal oppression.
The Tom of Finland Foundation, a 20-year-old
organization dedicated to preserving and promoting erotic art, held
its fourth annual art fair at the LGBT Community Center this past
weekend. The exhibition of the work of 40 artists transformed the
ground floor meeting hall of the Center into a panorama of
tumescent, uncircumcised penises and hirsute lumberjacks exposing
their furry posteriors.
“This is more bear art than anything else,” said one
visitor, referring to the gay subculture of men who define
themselves as bears and whose erotic fixations center on beards,
body hair, and, shall we say, the middle-age spread.
The visitor had perhaps not made it through the
In addition to depictions of bears, there were also
sketches and paintings glorifying young male bodies – the Greek
Adonis archetype; photographic studies of the male nude as body
builder, athlete, and “twink;” raunchy illustrations detailing
multiple sex acts; collages of images torn from hard-core skin mags;
and three-dimensional sculptures made of wood.
This kind of art recently took a step up the art
industry’s ladder, from pornography to high art, with the acceptance
of six Tom of Finland drawings into the Museum of Modern Art’s
Touko Laaksonen, who died in 1991, was an artist who
drew homoerotic images under the pseudonym Tom of Finland. The style
and themes of his drawings became world famous for their expression
of a fantasy sex world built around square-jawed blue collar and
military men. Initially, Laaksonen founded the Tom of Finland
organization with a Canadian, Durk Dehner, its current director, in
order to ensure an archive for his artistic work. However, with the
devastation wrought by AIDS in the erotic art community, the Tom of
Finland Foundation extended its mission to encompass preservation of
all erotic art. The permanent collection now includes over 1,500
original Tom of Finland works, and 1,500 works by other artists. The
archive contains more than 500,000 images, documents and
memorabilia, comprising the world’s largest collection of erotic
The foundation hosts an annual “Erotic Art Weekend”
as a public program to further its mission.
Artists came from across the country and around the
world to display and sell their creations, including artists from
Canada, France, and Israel.
Toronto-based photographer Dale Bolivar showed
figurative photographs of single models, to which he had added
neon-bright outlines and patterned overlays. His style is notable
for its aesthetic appeal, in part due to the fact that Bolivar
produces series of images on individual models that allow for a
extensive studies of each man’s body and expressions.
The illustrator Belasco, widely described as the
modern-day Tom of Finland, creates graphic comic books of African
American men bonding in not only homoerotic, but also racial
solidarity. One strip in the collection “Brothers of New Essex: Afro
Erotic Adventures” depicts a black man, exhausted by a day of
racialized office politics, coming home to sex and comfort with his
Photographer JD Dragan of Philadelphia sold classic
black and white prints of black male nudes. His work is strongly
reminiscent of Robert Mapplethorpe’s, but also of the African
American artists Lyle Ashton and Thomas Allen Harris, whose nude
self-portraits in the early 1990s destabilized the racist reading of
Mapplethorpe’s mode of visual representation.
“Whether the image is classically reminiscent of
another era or brashly modern in execution, I want the viewer to
gain entry into what lies behind the eyes of the man,” said Dragan
in an artist’s statement. “My ongoing challenge is to capture a male
nude in a fashion that is not objectified.”
Another strong standout at this year’s fair was the
work of New Jersey-based artist Will Hübscher. Starting with black
and white photographs, some of them vintage, Hübscher adds color,
texture and dimension. The artist showed erotic images of unexpected
subjects, such as the portrait “Femme Arabe avec la Yachmak,” a
portrait in gray and yellow of a woman in an Islamic burka, whose
breasts are exposed. “It was a tourist photo from 1920 that I
found,” said Hübscher. He reproduced the exposed
breast several times in his piece, making a strong statement about
sexual curiosity and what lies beneath.
The fair also included a corner where live nude
models posed while artists sketched away.
Late in the day on Sunday, with collectors making
last minute purchases, an organizer stood positioning a pair of
models so that their penises overlapped just so. A photographer
moved in close to capture the moment. “Please don’t stand in front
of the models,” said the organizer. “It makes them nervous and they