east coast — west coast — europe — 2006
by durk dehner

It is an exciting time for me to see so many of the dreams I have for the Foundation come true. I am grateful for the trust and support you have given me to lead this organization. I have strived to keep Tom’s and other erotic art expressions very visible in the world. We are celebrating 21 years of being a nonprofit, and especially the acknowledgement of Tom of Finland’s work being included into the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Some of Tom’s masterpieces are featured in a traveling exhibition. In each new city the exhibit takes on different characteristics and inspires me to seek out additional venues where the art can be appreciated.


A showcase of
Tom memorabilia at
Tom of Finland: Rough.
photo by Durk Dehner

On May 17, 2006 we held a cocktail reception in Manhattan to celebrate Tom of Finland: Coming of Age, a 21-piece exhibition of extraordinary drawings. This evening’s event was only made possible through the focused efforts of three remarkable New York City men: Gary Robinson, Mark Nelson, and Brian Crede who all cochaired the gala exposition with the generosity of the host venue, the Charles Cowles Gallery.

I felt it would be interesting to ask each curator the process they used in selecting the works for their respective shows. The guidelines were that there had to be 21 of Tom’s works that were representative of the Foundation’s Permanent Collection.

Tony Payne, who has been an archivist at the Tom of Finland Foundation for the past ten years, was invited to be the curator for the Foundation’s Coming of Age exhibition:

Having spent a great deal of time organizing and storing the Foundation’s archive of Tom’s drawings, I found the opportunity to curate a show of 21 works to celebrate the Coming of Age anniversary an exciting challenge, daunting only in the sheer number of amazing pieces to choose from.

We tried to show as diverse a range of Tom’s work as possible: drawings from all different eras, stunning color examples, never before seen work, loose fluid preliminary sketches and tight completed finished drawings. Some dark and moody, some examples with hard sexual content, iconic solo figures and, above all, Tom’s characteristic intense camaraderie — even tenderness — depicted between men.

Judith Rothschild Foundation’s trustee Harvey S. Shipley Miller and curator Andre Schlechtriem also curated what is most likely the largest collection of works on paper done at anytime in the last century — gifting it to the MoMA. Included in this gift were five Tom of Finland drawings purchased at The Miami Art Exhibition through Western Project’s Cliff Benjamin — whose gallery is the official international representative of Tom of Finland’s artwork.

Harvey expressed to the attendees that, “Tom of Finland was one of the most influential artists of the last century. As an artist he was superb, but as an influence he was transcendent.”

As masterful as these [pieces] are, people say that the subject is not the object of the picture. But in narrative and representational art, the subject is very much a part of the story.... The point is that Tom of Finland was the path for this whole generation [of modern artists].

It was also revealed to the revelers that the 22nd piece hanging on the gallery wall was a work of Tom’s that was not included in the gifting — not just yet. Harvey told the audience that this piece was truly a “masterwork”. It would be held by the Rothschild Foundation until MoMA was ready to receive such a graphic image. “It is all about the timing,” he said.


And so the Coming of Age exhibition arrived at home base to be prepared for its next public display. It was the backbone of finished works that would be presented along with Tom’s preliminary studies. Tom of Finland: Rough appeared at Western Project Culver City, Los Angeles from July 29 - September 9, 2006. Cliff Benjamin notes of his curation:

Since 1997, I have worked with Tom’s drawings nearly every day, either showing works to clients or researching images and dates, or anything related. The profundity of his art has grown immeasurably in my mind and I now see many of its oddly subtle elements. There is so much history and nuance documented by his hand; describing the way men interacted with one another in a variety of ways — be it erotic, intimate, or predatory. I see his work as boldly unapologetic, un-PC, and wholly honest.

More memorabilia at Rough.
photo by Durk Dehner

Never considering his drawings as fine art, Tom worked outside the traditional art world, obsessed with his vision of pleasure and erotic freedom. His work is an indictment of the male libido – aggressive, relentless, and playful - consumed with the possibilities of Eros. The images are heroic, iconoclastic, flushed with testosterone and humor. His work exemplifies a rare clarity, achieved by the single focus of imagination and the consistent practice of craft by an artist. His mastery of drawing formidably illuminates his love of the male form, akin to Picasso’s obsession with women, and Russ Meyer’s awe of the feminine figure.

It has been my pleasure to curate an exhibition which fully exposes Tom’s facility and ingenious hand as a draftsman. The purpose is to show the preliminary drawings as the architecture of his work. I have noticed through the years that many people get caught up in Tom’s subject matter — something about size... — and cannot appreciate what it takes to create such incredible pictures. By emphasizing the preliminary drawings I want to show Tom’s fluid and natural talent — he could draw anything at will. These drawings document his process in creating an image, and how he made decisions about composition, the shadow on a face, clothing, etcetera.

These are historic works that illuminate his complete understanding of the human body and its dynamic potential as a vehicle for storytelling or portraiture. Using works beginning in 1944, the exhibition travels through the later decades of 20th century with Tom at the helm, telling tales which raise an eyebrow, stiffen your jeans or make us all laugh at the way men dream, desire and live. And these small works are still controversial — curiously because they are not ironic, angry or codified. The work is point blank straightforward; it expresses a kind of willful abandon and freedom from the beginning, to the end of his career. The preliminary drawings are a testament to the consistency and authenticity of Tom as an artist — a very rare thing, indeed.


Paris will also see the Coming of Age exhibition at the Galerie Jean-Luc & Takako Richard from December 2, 2006 - January 5, 2007.

74 rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, France
Phone: 33 (0)1 43 25 27 22

How about Berlin? Any ideas?



— Share This Page —
Share |

"Yes, I consider my work pornography. Pornography means to stimulate peoples' sexual feelings, and I'm always very aware of that. My motive is lower than art." — Tom of Finland from the MSC Finland Website.