Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland
November 2, 2013-January 26, 2014
MOCA Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave., Design Plaza G102, West Hollywood, CA 90069
MOCA PACIFIC DESIGN CENTER (http://www.moca.org/museum/moca_pdc.php) presents Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland, the first American museum exhibition devoted to the art of Bob Mizer (1922–1992) and Touko Laaksonen, aka “Tom of Finland” (1920–1991), two of the most significant figures of twentieth century erotic art and forefathers of an emergent post-war gay culture. The exhibition features a selection of Tom of Finland’s masterful drawings and collages, alongside Mizer’s rarely seen photo-collage “catalogue boards” and films, as well as a comprehensive collection of his groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial, where drawings by Tom were first published in 1957. Organized by MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson and guest co-curator Richard Hawkins, the exhibition is presented with the full collaboration of the Bob Mizer Foundation, El Cerrito, and the Tom of Finland Foundation, Los Angeles.
Tom of Finland is the creator of some of the most iconic and readily recognizable imagery of post-war gay culture. He produced thousands of images beginning in the 1940s, robbing straight homophobic culture of its most virile and masculine archetypes (bikers, hoodlums, lumberjacks, cops, cowboys, and sailors) and recasting them—through deft skill and fantastic imagination—as unapologetic, self-aware, and boastfully proud enthusiasts of gay sex. His most innovative achievement though, worked out in fastidious renderings of gear, props, settings, and power relations inherent therein, was to create the depictions that would eventually become the foundation of an emerging gay leather culture. Tom imagined the leather scene by drawing it; real men were inspired by it… and suited themselves up.
Bob Mizer, Physique Pictorial Volume 10 Number 4, april 1961, publication, printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc.
Bob Mizer began photographing as early as 1942, but unlike many of his contemporaries in the subculture of illicit physique nudes, Mizer took the Hollywood star-system approach and founded the Athletic Model Guild in 1945, a film and photo studio specializing in handsome natural-bodied (as opposed to exclusively muscle-bound, the norm of the day) boy-next-door talent. In his myriad satirical prison dramas, sci-fi flix, domesticated bachelor scenarios, and elegantly captivating studio sessions, Mizer photographed and filmed over 10,000 models at a rough estimate of 60 photos a day, seven days a week for almost 50 years. Mizer always presented a fresh-faced and free, unashamed and gregarious, totally natural and light-hearted approach to male nudity and intimate physical contact between men. For these groundbreaking perspectives in eroticized representation alone, Mizer ranks with Alfred Kinsey at the forefront of the sexual revolution. Thanks to the Guild, Mizer was not only a subversive and kitschy force in the art world but also one of the first to instill an open, gay community before the concept even existed. Continue reading