Tom of Finland is one of the most recognized Finnish artists in the world, renowned for his signature style and iconic images. A new exhibition opening on April 28, 2023 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki highlights Tom of Finland’s artistic mastery, establishing him as a major figure in 20th century contemporary art and visual culture.

The exhibition presents works from Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, together with works from the collection of Finnish National Gallery. There are also works from Finnish and international public and private collections in the exhibition. Alongside drawings, the exhibition features archive material, Tom’s personal clothing and memorabilia, letters, publications, magazines, films, and a new VR experience produced by Donkey Hotel. The experience immerses the viewer into the rooms of 1421 Laveta Terrace, better known as TOM House, the former residence of Tom of Finland in Los Angeles, where he mastered his artwork and lived over the last decade of his life.

The exhibition’s narrative employs the biography of Tom of Finland (born Touko Valio Laaksonen, 8 May 1920 – 7 November 1991) as a guiding thread in examining six decades of his practice. It uses different moments and settings from Laaksonen’s early life in Finland, such as his rural upbringing, military service, his move to the city, post-war period, and his numerous travels in Europe and the USA. Tom’s characters such as the logger, biker, white collar worker, serviceman, or police officer, denote an engagement with uniforms and gear in a playful manner that subverts conventional behaviours and defies expectations.

“I consistently represent masculine beauty. Of course I do exaggerate the muscles and genitals, for this is what makes it a dream.” -Tom of Finland, from Sex Press, La Martiniere, 2012

The fantasy situations depicted by Tom of Finland project a world of enjoyment and pride, which then and now opposes conceptions of non-normative or non-confirming identities bearing guilt or shame. The exhibition contextualizes the artist’s work within wider narratives, linking directly to the history of the international LGBTQI+ movement and culture.

By collapsing fixed conceptions of dominance and compliance, the playfulness of the stories and their protagonists signals Tom of Finland’s ongoing relevance and echo key dynamics active today related to fluid identities. The exhibition is joined by Dreamy, a queer hang of the Museum’s collection, aiming at underlining the continuities between past and present practices dealing with LGBTQI+ identities, historicizing recent practices and signaling Tom of Finland’s pioneering agency.

The exhibition is curated by Museum Director Leevi Haapala and Chief Curator of Exhibitions João Laia with an illustrated publication collecting newly commissioned texts and pre-existing writings translated for the first time into English as well as excerpts from one of the last interviews Tom of Finland gave.

Tom of Finland  – Bold Journey  – April 28 to Oct 29, 2023

Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Mannerheiminaukio 2,
Helsinki, Finland

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.