Visit 'The Darkroom' — Tom of Finland 100th Birthday Celebrated in NYC Exhibition

Wednesday May 19, 2021

"Aarno," 1976. Photo: Tom of Finland, courtesy of the Tom of Finland Foundation
"Aarno," 1976. Photo: Tom of Finland, courtesy of the Tom of Finland Foundation  

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Fotografiska in collaboration with Tom of Finland Foundation produced "The Darkroom," an exciting study in artist Tom of Finland's (born Touko Laaksonen, 1920-1991) life and work process.

The exhibition, curated by Berndt Arell, traveled from Stockholm to New York in time for Tom of Finland's 101st birthday this past May 8. Called "The Darkroom," it continues through Aug. 20, 2021 at 281 Park Ave. South at 22nd St., New York, NY 10010. For more information, visit the museum's website.

The exhibition consists of photographic portraits that served as reference images for his famed homoerotic drawings. These photographs were confined to Tom of Finland's home studio and darkroom, displaying them elsewhere would have risked a prison sentence, as homosexuality was criminalized and classified as a mental disorder in his native Finland at the time of this work. Even after a century of Tom of Finland's birth, there are forces today trying to relegate homosexual desire into dark closets.

Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen) in a portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe  (Source: Tom of Finland Foundation)

Tom of Finland, with his desire and skill, positively portrayed and drew masculine, attractive, confident men in homoerotic poses — dressed in uniforms, leather, rubber and fetish gear — thoroughly challenging contemporary society. At the same time, he was highly regarded by queer folk and members of the leather/fetish community. Curator Berndt Arell shares: "This never before shown treasure trove of images gives a deeper insight into how his skillfully drawn super-macho men were created. Each drawing could consist of several references from several different photographs. The drawings show the men always full of confidence, and always ready, since Tom of Finland's art, for him, wasn't about problematising, but about desire and the right to express it."

Tom of Finland is celebrated internationally for his prolific and positive portrayal of confident gay men. His representational subjects are masculine, attractive, endowed with pronounced muscles and genitalia, and often dressed in uniforms or leather gear. His depictions of queer culture thoroughly challenged contemporary society, and solidified his place as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.

Fotografiska is the internationally renowned destination for photography, founded in Stockholm in 2010 and expanding globally — first to Tallinn, Estonia, and now to New York City. Its website defines its mission this way: "Guided by the principle of inspiring a more conscious world through the power of photography, Fotografiska has built a safe haven of innovation, inclusivity and self expression."

"The Darkroom" continues through Aug. 20, 2021 at 281 Park Ave. South at 22nd St., New York, NY 10010. For more information, visit the museum's website.