Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland at MOCA

A retrospective on the work of two of the most influential figures in post-war homoerotic art

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Tomorrow, 2 November, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) will unveil Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland, an exhibition profiling the works of Bob Mizer (19221992) and Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland (19201991). Organized by MOCA curator Bennett Simpson and guest co-curator Richard Hawkins, the exhibition showcases two artists whose works were focused on the erotic. Hawkins, a contemporary artist who worked for the Tom of Finland Company in the early ’90s (and also happened to be a longtime fan and part-time collector of Bob Mizer), spoke with CH about the upcoming exhibition.

This exhibit features two of the most significant figures of 20th centuryerotic art.Why did now seem like a good time to present this exhibit?

It wasfortuitous, actually. MOCA had just acquired two amazing Bob Mizer works fortheir permanent collection at a moment when [MOCA Curator] Bennett Simpson was beginningto make a few visits to the Tom ofFinland Foundation with an eye, I think, foralso adding some Tom of Finland drawings to the museums collection. Thoughinitially two unrelated activities, once the museum realized that the two artistsworkedso closely for so many years, it became obvious that an exhibition wasimminent.

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I know there will be unseen catalogue boards in the exhibition. Can you tell me a little bit about this?

There are 30 ormore of Mizers catalogue boards in the exhibition. While not the most obviouschoice, they show in a static format the sheer enthusiasm with which Mizerapproached his practice. They alsofit well with pages from Tom of Finlandsresource bindersof which there are 12 in the show, the largest presentationever shown of Toms collages. As a collage artist myself Id have to admit thatthis wasone focus for the show very early on. For Toms collages at least, youllbe able to see evidence of an artist being within his own contemporary culturebut refusing to be determined by its mandates,restrictions and prejudices.

It seems like a very progressive exhibition.Was there any hesitation with it?

None at all. Bennettand I agreed early on that we shouldnt hold back for the sake of showingwithin a public context that might be, arguably, much more conservative thanthe private domain in which theseworks were originally distributed. Both ofthese artists works were about sex and were meant to primarily stimulate and inducesex. To forget that, or to edit that out or to portray the work in a lessexplicitlight would seem to be a betrayal of the works intentions.

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Besides being two significant individuals in their dedication to homoeroticart, what is it about these two figures that synergizes when their creationsare side by side?

Mizer himselfwas an early pre-Stonewall advocate in the pages of “Physique Pictorial” forself-determined rights, whether those rights be about the distribution andpossession of illicit materials or hisearly support of the MattachineSociety. But, the most important thing to remember is that both Bob Mizer andTom of Finland worked in a time when the images they were producing were alwaysunder thethreat of prosecution. Nonetheless, they both seemed to thrive on theidea that sex is not only worth portraying but also worth pursuing andstimulating and advocatingno matter its contemporarycriminality. Surely,they seemed to believe something as important and fun would one day be legal.

As they both have an extensive archive ofwork, what was the curation process like?

I think youllfind a number of well-recognized favorites for all the longtime fans, but alsoa few amazing discoveries. The Tom of Finland resource binder collages haverarely been shown and I believe this isthe largest presentation of them everdisplayed. The Mizer catalogue boards [have] recently been shown but never in suchquantity. Editing was difficult, obviously, but Bennettsand my concentration seemed tobe less dedicated to range and versatility and more aboutconsistency and integrity of vision. For Mizer, as an example, there alwaysseemed to be a return to a storyline where mediawhether it be broadcasttelevision,Hollywood films or store bought magazinesseemed magically to cometo life. Through this, the impulse to generate your own culture rather than bedominated by the one given you seemed to be one ofMizers most importantmessages.

What is the overall message of this show?

Alot of advances on the road to a more liberated position in the world have beenmade by insistingand stimulatingour erotic selves. Call it porn if youwant, but it provided a lot of fuel for the rights that we enjoy today.

Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland opens tomorrow, 2 November, and will run until 26 January 2014.

Images courtesy of Bob Mizer Foundation and Tom ofFinland Foundation