The Tom of Finland Foundation is an international charitable organization supporting erotic artwork. It was founded in 1984 and is headquartered in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles City Council designated the Tom of Finland House (a craftsman home where the Tom of Finland Foundation is) as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) on November 29, 2016.
History and Mission
In 1984, the non-profit Tom of Finland Foundation was established by Durk Dehner and his friend Touko Laaksonen a.k.a. Tom of Finland. As Tom had established worldwide recognition as the master of homo-erotic art, the foundation’s original purpose was to preserve his vast catalog of work. Several years later the scope was widened to offer a safe haven for all erotic art in response to rampant discrimination against art that portrayed sexual behavior or generated a sexual response. Today the foundation continues in its efforts of educating the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.
Unlike many artists, Tom of Finland’s work has always been appreciated by a grass-roots audience as his work was first seen in commercial settings such as magazine illustration, posters and advertising. From the perspective of art historians, Tom’s work had an effect on global culture unmatched by that of virtually any other artist. Tom’s work had a defining impact on the way gay men throughout the world were perceived and more importantly, how they perceived themselves. Tom’s work has, therefore, had a ripple effect throughout gay and straight culture during the last 40 years, influencing lifestyle, political tolerance, design, fashion and art.
One of the primary goals of the foundation is to promote Tom’s work along with other erotic art so that it receives the academic attention it deserves. From a critical perspective, thanks in part to the sustained commitment of the foundation, Tom’s art is now beginning to receive the acknowledgment it merits. The Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art was the first to make a progressive move in its 1991 acquisition of three Tom of Finland works. In 1997 Tom’s work was acquired by two more major museums: The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Actively promoted by the foundation, Tom’s work is increasingly being shown in galleries worldwide. A recent well-received exhibition at the Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica, California established this blue-chip gallery as the official representative for sales of Tom’s work in the contemporary art world.
The foundation is a non-profit organization, a 501(c)(3) Educational Archive: #95-406-5795, supported by donations from the public, various fund-raising events and dues from its loyal membership. The men and women who support its efforts and goals dedicate themselves both financially and as volunteers enabling the foundation to present an impressive number of activities on a limited budget.
The Tom of Finland Company exists as a separate entity from the foundation. The company was first established by Tom and Durk to oversee the publication of his work and to eliminate the problem of widespread piracy of his images. In order to further the goal of supporting both Tom’s art and the art of other erotic artists, the company initiated and funded the Tom of Finland Foundation and continues to provide free publicity and frequent donations to further its aims.
In recent years, the foundation has rapidly expanded its permanent collection through donations of all manner of erotic artworks, by artists of all genders and sexual orientations. In addition, a growing archive of images by other artists to complement the extensive one of Tom’s work is in progress. These archives provide an invaluable resource to curators, students, art historians and collectors.
To support and encourage emerging erotic artists, the foundation produces a bi-annual contest which provides exhibition of their work, publicity and awards. The promotion and sale of both new and established artists is facilitated through the “Erotic Art Gallery by Mail.” The work represented ranges from unknown artists to classic images by Tom, Don Bachardy, and more. The project’s success has exceeded expectations in providing a place to expand the commercial value and exposure of erotic art.
The Foundation hosts social events throughout the year to raise funds and to provide a sense of community for supporters of erotic art. An example is the annual “Tom’s Bar” which promotes and exhibits erotic art in a very popular party setting and raises funds to support the foundation’s activities at the same time. The rapidly growing “Erotic Art Weekend” brings together artists and patrons from many parts of the globe. It provides them with a social environment in which to network, opportunities to explore the archives and most importantly, the opportunity to buy and sell works at the two-day Erotic Art Fair.
The Foundation has an Erotic Artist Hall of Fame. Michael Kirwan, who spent a year as the Foundation’s first Artist in Residence, was inducted into its Erotic Artist Hall of Fame in 2004.