The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) is organizing the first American museum exhibition devoted to the art and collaborations of Bob Mizer (1922-1992) and Touko Laaksonen, aka "Tom of Finland" (1920-1991), two of the towering figures of twentieth century erotic art and heroes of an emergent post-war gay culture. Organized by MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson and Guest Co-Curator Richard Hawkins, the exhibition will feature a selection of Laaksonen's masterful drawings and collages, alongside Mizer's photographs, films, and ephemera, including his groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial—where drawings by Laaksonen were first published in 1957.
In 1945, captivated by mid-century idealizations of masculinity, Mizer founded the Athletic Model Guild, or AMG, a Los Angeles agency for male physique models, hundreds of whom Mizer would photograph and publish over the next forty years in Physique Pictorial. Laaksonen is the creator of arguably the most iconic imagery in post-war gay culture. He produced thousands of drawings during his lifetime, from early depictions of homo-masculine archetypes such as lumberjacks, motorcycle cops, sailors, and soldiers in the 1940s and '50s, to more polished drawings of sexual fetishes, fantasies, and queer sex in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. Though Laaksonen did not move to Los Angeles until the late 1970s, he was aware of Mizer's work decades before and regularly sent drawings from his home in Finland to be printed in the magazine, hence the moniker "Tom of Finland."
By the time the gay liberation movement swept through the United States in the late 1960s and 70s, both Laaksonen and Mizer were already well-known and widely celebrated as veritable pioneers of gay art and a growing leather culture.
Spanning five decades, the exhibition seeks a wider appreciation for Laaksonen and Mizer's work, considering their aesthetic influence on generations of artists, both gay and straight, among them, David Hockney, Mike Kelley, Jack Pierson, and Andy Warhol. The exhibition also acknowledges the profound cultural and social impact Laaksonen and Mizer have made, especially in providing open, powerful imagery of queer sexuality in an era of rapidly shifting attitudes towards homosexuality.
Presenting the broader historical context and key aspects of their shared interests and working relationship, as well as more in-depth rooms dedicated to each artist, the exhibition establishes the art historical importance of the staggering work of these legendary figures.X