Tom of Finland – Made in Germany

event photo
Tom of Finland, Untitled (Poster for Leather Weekend), 1974, Graphite on paper, 49 × 29.5 cm. Courtesy Galerie Judin, Berlin. © TOM OF FINLAND ©1974-2020 Tom of Finland Foundation; Tangermann Collection


Ris­ing to fame under the pseudonym Tom of Fin­land, Touko Laakso­nen (1920−1991) is perhaps the most famous and influ­en­tial Finnish artist of the 20th century. For his centennial, Galerie Judin is devot­ing a museal exhi­bi­tion with more than 60 loans − many of them on view for the very first time.

His iconic depic­tion of proud and life-affirm­ing gay­ness pro­vided deci­sive impulses for the interna­tional gay move­ments from the 1960s onwards. But although we instinc­tively associate his sensu­ous por­tray­als of self-confi­dent and carefree cops, cowboys, farm­ers, and men in black leather with the USA, the base camp for Tom’s stellar ascent to gay icon sta­tus lay nei­ther in his native Fin­land nor in the USA. It was, of all places, Hamburg and the close bonds that Tom had formed with expo­nents of the local gay scene there in the early 1970s that led to his first-ever exhi­bi­tion, a bar adorned with his works and named after him, two grand murals and the forma­tion of the most important pri­vate col­lec­tion of his work. Regular commis­sions to design posters and ads for gay events in Hamburg allowed him to launch his artis­tic career after quitt­ing his day job as an adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive. And even his first trip to the US was plotted there. In and from Hamburg, Tom’s draw­ings − that had largely been regarded as mere reproduc­tion mate­r­ial − began their triumphal march around the globe as works of art. If, today, we under­stand Tom of Fin­land as an artist rather than as a commer­cial illus­trator with a pen­chant for pornog­ra­phy, then this appre­cia­tion, too, is Made in Ger­many.

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