TOM OF FINLAND
AN ART THEFT
WHERE WE'VE BEEN, WHERE WE COULD BE GOING
letter from Durk Dehner,
cofounder and president of the Tom of Finland Foundation.
I wanted to mail a
version of this letter out to you some months ago, yet it would
have had information in it that could hamper an investigation
– which I will explain further on in this letter.
A TIPPING POINT
I possibly could have
alleviated the severity of the Foundation's present financial
crisis if I had followed my instincts and sent a version of this
letter to you with a few exclusions about the art theft and the
financial load it entailed. Several less desperate appeal letters
were sent over the last several months. A few committed souls
rallied to the cause by donating time, funding and expertise.
Now, a year later,
the Foundation has NOT joined the ranks of defunct nonprofit organizations.
Yet like many other surviving nonprofits: staffing and programs
have been slashed. We know how donors do not like to fund anything
that sounds like it's on the verge of failing – the “sinking ship”
syndrome. We have no intention of sinking. We may, however, have
to sharply constrict our mission and services to weather this
financial storm. The only "safe harbor" is a vibrant
and supportive community.
I started to have a
glimpse of what was to come back in the spring of 2006, yet did
not truly see how far-reaching the effects of this fiscal trend
would have on the Foundation, myself, and the artists and culture
that surround us.
will choose if we stay open, or shutter the windows and go silent.
That is the reality that has always faced us, and faces us at
the present time. It is important for all to know the costs that
will be attached to such a decision:
The informative biyearly
printed version of our newsletter for our members had to be dropped.
Our e-mail newsletter was curtailed from twice to once a month.
We had to let go of our very dedicated and enthusiastic office
administrator in June 2009.
Thousands of irreplaceable
paintings, drawings and photos in our Permanent Collection are
currently stored in a climate controled environment at the cost
of several hundred dollars a month. This incredible heritage may
soon have to be placed in a much less art friendly atmosphere.
I will share the sequence
of events that have taken place over the past year or so, so that
you will get a more complete picture of the complexities that
we have had to endure and the formidable obstacles that have been
put in our path to overcome.
A PART OF THE ART
EXHIBITION, ART THEFT, AND EXPENSIVE RECOVERY
August 29, 2008:
I had just returned from five weeks in Europe. The trip started
with a wonderful Parisian launch for the TOM fragrance by perfume
creator, Etat Libre d’Orange. I then took a short, yet wonderful,
week in the north of the Netherlands with my son, Todd, and his
family, where I enjoyed my two granddaughters who are simply bursting
with life’s energy.
I then went to England to investigate the theft of eight works
of art from the Foundation’s Permanent Collection. [This is the
part that the police did not want us to announce to the public.]
The pieces, by Tom of Finland, had been in a European traveling
exhibition since December of 2006. This same exhibition then went
on to Liverpool in September 2008 as part of the European Union
cultural capitol’s Festival of the Arts. Over six thousand people
came to see the exhibition. The London Times dedicated a full
page of editorial to it.
I am very impressed with the men and women from the Homotopia
organization who brought the exhibit to Liverpool and Liverpudlians
in general, for being so natural and down to earth in their appreciation
of queer artists from the “Fellow Travelers”. Homotopia presented
new and inviting experiences in a truly real and hip way – utilizing
so much of who, and what, we are as a queer arts community. I
invite you to visit Homotopia online and see the video clip of
rock icon and artist, Holly Johnson, on a tour of the exhibit
of Tom’s work.
In regards to the theft of our art I was fortunate to get some
good leads that directed me to a collector who had purchased three
of the stolen works. Legal services were engaged and the police
informed. The exploratory investigation into the theft and legal
representation has cost both the Foundation and myself over
$25,000 to date.
Worse than that, this
entire experience has had a devastating impact on my emotional
and physical health. It has literally robbed me of hundreds and
hundreds of work and personal hours. It has taken me away from
what my daily duties have been – making sure that the Foundation
is generating the necessary income to stay healthy – operating
with a full staff and program funding.
Hopefully we will soon be permitted to issue a full press release
on all the occurrences that surrounded the theft of the artwork,
for now I want to inform you that all of the missing works have
Two individuals have
been arrested and charged for this crime in the courts of the
United Kingdom and go to trial in late January 2010. They are
Andrew Clarkin and Simon Pittuck, the owners of the Keith Talent
gallery, which were made the official representatives for Tom
of Finland’s art in England at the time of the theft. They had
acquired this status by being booked into the tour by our home
gallery; Western Project based in here in Los Angeles. The Keith
Talent gallery had been developing a notable presence in the international
contemporary art scene through their coordinating and participating
in art fairs in London, mainland Europe and the United States.
The Foundation had always deferred the final decision of which
galleries would accept Tom’s work to the expertise of our gallery
representation, at this time that being Cliff Benjamin of Western
Project. Both Mr. Benjamin and I met with Mr. Clarkin on a visit
he made to Los Angeles where Clarkin presented himself, and his
gallery, as being both honest and progressive. It has always been
the policy that the gallery representation is in charge of all
necessary “background checking”.
Cliff Benjamin of Western Project was the curator of this retrospective
exhibition of Tom’s work which premiered at his gallery in the
early fall of 2006. The traveling exhibition represented 88 works
from the Foundation’s Permanent Collection with another 30 works
from our inventory of for-sale pieces. It has always been ToFF’s
mission to keep Tom present in popular culture so we were pleased
that his work would be seen in London — a city that has had a
large Tom fan-base for many decades.
A PART OF THE ART
OF FINLAND XXL
The book, Tom of Finland XXL, by Tashen, was in full
production during August and September of 2008 demanding most
of our time and energies. It required the Foundation to supply
the publisher with originals and negatives on a daily basis. we
were always in search of the best source material for this monumental
book. This is the kind of book of which artists dream – it is
666 pages with the format size being XXL (approx. 12” x 18”).
To truly get a sense of this book’s magnitude you need to go to
a bookstore and see how important this volume is in the way it
honors both the artist and our own homosexual community. It surely
makes all of us proud of the master artist, Tom of Finland, for
he is our own homeboy and a true hero of mega proportions.
The book has now been out for 4 months and TASCHEN reports that
sales have been very good. It retails for US $200.00 and you can
purchase it through the Foundation, yet I must let you know that
Amazon just wiped us out of the competition with a price of US$126.00
– a price that can't be beat. It seems a lot of people are confusing
a previous released volume on Tom titled Art of Pleasure
with this book. The two books are very much different and upon
viewing the book one will see they are like his drawing titled
“Night and Day”. Go to The
World of Tom from our home page to read more about it
and many other noteworthy happenings in our namesake’s ongoing
career (18 years after his passing!)
A PART OF THE ART
HOLLYWOOD / LOS ANGELES EROTIC ART FAIR WEEKEND
ToFF scheduled the West Hollywood/Los Angeles Erotic Art Fair
Weekend (WHLA EAFW) for October 3rd – 5th, 2008. As president,
I wanted to go ahead with the Fair Weekend, as the visual arts
that represent our community are the means for us to pass on who
we are to the younger and developing generations. It is where
our passions and our history are contained, and, it seems to me,
that it’s the easiest and most straightforward means for us to
share ourselves with our public. It is part of the foundation
on what our Foundation has been built.
As the deadline approached,
I had to make a hard decision. With the XXL publication under
deadline, the continual distraction of the art theft, and reduced
staff because of budget cuts — the Fair had to be postponed.
The WHLA EAFW was rescheduled for March 2009. It was our 14th
Fair Weekend in Los Angeles and our 20th Fair Weekend nationally.
The year 2009 marks our 25th anniversary as a nonprofit. I was
determined to make it the best we have ever had and you will be
able to see what I mean by visiting our Fair pages on ToFF’s website.
The March Fair Weekend 2009 was a success. We had 60 artists participating,
which was a full house for the city’s auditorium in West Hollywood.
We had nearly 950 attendees at the Fair, some who came both days
— these numbers lining up well with past years, so again we did
fine. It was also noticeable that a lot of younger people were
in attendance. The sales were acceptable — not great yet not dismal
either, considering it was a recession year, so yes, we did just
fine. Bearing in mind we did it on an extremely small budget also
indicates that the Foundation did a fine job. (Okay, there is
always with room for improvement, and a lack of coffee didn't
The Fair would not have been possible if it hadn't been for the
involvement of the City of West Hollywood who provided the space
to us without fees and the West Hollywood Marketing & Visitors
Bureau, under the leadership of Bill Hynes, who made it possible
for us to have beautiful street banners that promoted the Fair.
West Hollywood is a welcoming city, one that recognizes the contributions
of homosexuals as something extremely valuable to the life of
the city nicknamed "The Creative City.”
expressions of how the Foundation will interface with our public
is definitely uncertain, based on the simple fact that our membership
numbers have continued to slide downwards over the past three
years. The younger generations are not yet clued in to the essential
position they hold in our cultural communities and that their
involvement and contributions are a necessary component for it
all to continue. Remember being twenty-something — did you think
of such things? Most likely not. That is left to those who have
already savored the life: Namely the elders of the community.
Tom used his work to communicate to many of us an identity and
a sense of pride and ownership in being homosexual – full and
complete as human beings. The main issue here is the operating
structure of the Foundation is slowly being whittled away because
of diminishing income. There are fewer staff and volunteers here
to take care of all of the programs and offerings that our public
has come to expect from ToFF.
A PART OF THE ART
EMERGING EROTIC ARTIST CONTEST
In the past four decades
we have experienced a renaissance in the erotic arts. It can continue
to flourish if we as a community are there to encourage it. We
have seen the financial value of artworks increase — both with
Tom of Finland and hundreds of other artists. ToFF has had an
Emerging Erotic Artist Contest (EEAC) almost every other
year since 1991. The winners of these Contests have proven us
accurate in our acknowledgement of them; for they have gone on
in the development and advancement of their art, some becoming
renowned in their field.
This year the Contest has had a markedly fewer entries to date
and our thinking is that it must be because we didn't send out
an official press release. The reason? We were short on staff
and finances and only did an online announcement of the Contest.
We realize now that we must send out hard copies of press releases
in order to reach many of the small international magazines and
gay centers that had previously promoted the Contest within their
communities. The deadline has been extended for submissions untill
November 30, 2009 and the winners will be announced on January
1, 2010. The winners will be invited to exhibit at the WHLA EAFW
in March of 2010 as guests of the Foundation.
A PART OF THE ART
FUNDRAISING AND OUR HERITAGE
Our fundraising efforts
in established annual events such as Tom's Bar, which
was created out of a celebration party in honor of Tom when he
had passed back in 1991, produced a gold medal level of attendance
this past June with over 850 paid celebrants. They were mostly
from the younger generations and didn't seem to be interested
in our silent auction. The auction has been a strong source of
generating revenue in past years indicating, one more time, that
it’s going to take some attention from all of us to guide our
youth into the world of collecting art – art that speaks to who
we are as a cultural, artistic community and expresses the sensual
and sexual aspects of our nature.
Unfortunately we cannot do a Tom’s Bar type event every
other month to generate revenue and, once again, we haven’t generated
any new memberships from fundraisers during the past months including
our biggest, Tom’s Bar.
In November of 2008, we appealed (without wanting to sound too
desperate) to our entire, extended mailing list asking for support.
Reflecting back on all the hours and monies that volunteers and
staff put into creating and producing that mailing (a personalized
Tom of Finland greeting card) — it only produced a trickle
in actual financial return.
Each of us has a responsibility to make sure that we are aware
of the cultural environment that surrounds us. By doing so, we
attach value to it. Then we must do what is necessary to keep
it healthy so that it may survive. The Beauty found in sexual
expression is essential to the developing homosexual and making
it an integral part of our lives has never been more important
as we attain more mainstream acceptance. We must guarantee financial
support for organizations, such as ours, that nurture and care
for the abundance of developing artists that express who we are
through what they create.
The homosexual community reproduces in a very natural manner without
having to propagate through mating. The percentage rate of homosexuals
in the population appears rather stable, year after year, decade
after decade. This is part of the natural scheme of things. In
harmony with that erotic art being indigenous to who and what
we our as a tribe, our artists continue to develop and come into
their own and will keep creating art if they are provided with
an environment that nurtures them.
A PART OF THE ART
INFLUENCE KEEPS EXPANDING
My commitment to Tom
was to keep his artwork out in popular culture as I witnessed
how it spoke to young homosexuals. His art continues to do its
magic and his audiences continue to widen. He also represents
all artists no matter their sexual orientation. Tom did not succumb
to the pressures of society that might restrain his freedom of
expression. This was never better stated than by a French contemporary
photographer artist, Rachel Laurent, who I met at a Tom of Finland
opening in Paris in December 2006, "I have arrived at the
bastion of freedom. Displayed here are the works of a man that
didn't cower or inhibit himself in his expression of what was
in his heart. He represents freedom for all of us."
The results of our community’s commitment can be seen, as Tom
is currently part of two exhibitions. The first, in New York,
Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation
Contemporary Drawings Collection at MoMA, where two of his
five works from their permanent collection are on display. It
seems rather ironic, yet enlightening, that these two pieces are
relatively tame compared to many of the other works being shown.
Tom's determination to include his sexuality in his work is finally
showing its effect in the contemporary fine art world as other
artists and curators validate the inclusion with other representations.
The other, The Collectors, at the 53rd International
Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, where Tom has been given
a beautiful wood paneled wall in the Nordic and Danish Pavilions
showcasing seven of his works six being from ToFF’s permanent
collection. It was through seducing the curators with just one
more work to consider, and then one more — that we got them to
take the six including one preliminary sketch of the David, a
commission done for Franco Zeffirelli. Another work included is
one of the drawings that was stolen in England in 2006, and then
We have another exhibition tentatively scheduled for Berlin later
this fall, which will have both works for sale and works from
our Permanent Collection. The reason we design them this way is
to encourage collecting and to allow the public to view works
that otherwise would rarely be seen. Unfortunately museum exhibitions
take years in the planning and they are few and far between who
are adventuresome as to book a Tom of Finland exhibition or a
selection from our outstanding Permanent Collection of hundreds
of other artists.
Considering the dire financial situation we are in, we still found
the funds recently to provide a grant to the artist Hector Silva,
enabling him to produce giclées and frame his works for
an exhibit at the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. Both he
and ToFF have been invited to exhibit in their first year anniversary
show, Sex on the Streets, that opened on September 12,
2009. Silva, who focuses on the subject of Latino boys in relationships
with each other, expressed to the Foundation how important it
was for him to be in this exhibit with his fellow artist and mentor
Tom of Finland. He just did not have the money to purchase the
frames and materials needed to fulfill his commitment. This is
an artist that supports himself, his partner and his parents from
the sale of his artwork.
There are very few granting institutions with programs that are
willing to embrace, and stand behind, giving money to an erotic
arts foundation. In America there is such a stigma attached to
sex; yes, still today, over 200 years after this country was founded.
Thus it rests on the shoulders of us who are more enlightened
and see the positive results that come about through the celebration
of the erotic arts.
A PART OF THE ART
THE FUTURE OF OUR HERITAGE, AND THE FOUNDATION
I am personally worn
down with the ongoing obstructions in raising funds just to keep
us going. I am still full of the passion. Yet being 60 years of
age, I just don’t have it in me to be out there fighting for a
piece of the pie the way we need to in present times. I have devoted
my life to the advancement of the erotic arts and have done as
good job as I have been capable of. The recent criminal / theft
issues and the continuous problems in meeting the financial requirements
may mean that the Foundation will need to operate solely as an
archive till such time that we can secure sufficient financial
endowments that will allow us to find our way into the future.
The homosexual communities of the world need to organize and activate
a cultural preservation plan. We need to arrange for an international
funding organization that would keep tabs on all the cultural
collections, both private and public. This organization, with
its international recognition, could garner the respect needed
so that gays and corporations will be contributing en bloc! This
organization will dispense funds when needed and step in to save
collections which otherwise would be sold off, split apart, reducing
their importance, access and availability to the work —
collections such as Bob Mizer of AMG and David Hurles of Old Reliable
. There are major private collections that are on the verge of
being broken apart as a result of there not being a strong stable
non profit that is receiving adequate funding to support their
inclusion. Having said that, we must find the means to create
such an institution that will serve our global cultural communities.
I propose that we have a conference that could be funded by a
large and stable arts organization where we bring all the big
hitters and the smallish sluggers together to develop methods
and to implement a global plan. What is needed is a public relations
campaign geared at our community: To first of all protect, then
to preserve and then to promote the past. Nurture the present.
Plan for the future.
I am an idea man. I am loyal and dedicated. I never said that
I was either smart or a good businessman. We cannot have all attributes.
I will most likely not be around 20 years from now and I do not
want to see Tom of Finland Foundation become merely something
from the past.
I am asking all who read this to go inside themselves and see
what you are capable of taking on and contributing in some form.
If you share in my philosophy of life, want to pass it on to others
and nurture those around you — please let me hear from you.
President & Cofounder
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quarter century of dedication to
protecting, preserving and promoting erotic art