Warm Leatherette

John Arthur Peetz at the launch party for artist Silvia Prada’s new book, Tom

Spread from Silvia Prada’s book, Tom, 2018.

ON FEBRUARY 22 AT PARTICIPANT INC., an entire neighborhood Scruff grid, power lesbians, and Lower East Side art drunks feted Silvia Prada’s Tom, her new book of drawings made in collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation and produced by Capricious Publishing. The event unfolded in the gallery’s superb Jayne County painting exhibition (up until March 11). One poncey ayahuasca enthusiast said County’s art looked exactly like his psychedelic ritual visions. Oh, Mary—no.

With perfectly mid-parted hair, Prada paraded around in an all-white denim ensemble, absorbing compliments about her delicate and androgynous (yet still buxom) pencil drawings of Tom’s porno collages (the artist, bizarrely, also sprinkled her imagery with stylistic nods to the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism). Sophie Mörner, Capricious’s founder, laughed with illustrious personages such as DJ Honey Dijon, PIN-UP’s Felix Burrichter, artist Raúl de Nieves, editor Michael Bullock (who also contributed an essay to Prada’s book), and fashion designer Gerlan Marcel. Mörner came with a glamorous friend who was very Penelope Cruz–as–Donatella Versace, but with a Nordic twist. The publisher shook hands with a raucous crowd.

DJ Honey Dijon. (Photo: Lexie Moreland/WWD/Shutterstock)

I found Participant’s Lia Gangitano, who had just recently celebrated her birthday, with musician and MoMA PS1’s “Warm-Up” creator T De Long, sitting in the back and sipping red wine. They were dressed in all black,lounging on a black leather sofa. We mused about the utter appropriateness of the venue for the event. For those who don’t know, the gallery occupies what used to be El Mirage, a gay sex club of yore that catered to sundry stripes of kink. If you visit the basement, you can still see the fluid-stained tiles that piss fetishists surely surrendered themselves against. Ha! Also: Where’s Lia MacArthur??? No one has done more work for marginalized queer New Yorkers than her.

I walked out from the back room and ran into Queer|Art|Film’s Adam Baran, who also moonlights as a queer-sex party promoter. We talked about Melissa Anderson’s and Michael Bullock’s beautiful writings for Tom as everyone around us got more and more smashed to an endless remix of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” At some point I bent over to pet a cute dog. When I asked its owner what breed it was, I thought she said, “Wire-haired cock terrier.” I asked her to clarify. “I think there are plenty of wire-haired cocks here tonight,” she said in retort. The lady wasn’t wrong: Beefy bearded bears mingled with fresh-faced fashion twinks in floor-length coats. There was an embarrassing number of tiny gold hoops dangling from ears too (so many gay stereotypes, most of them men). I even spotted a cowboy and a leathered-out bondage daddy in a policeman’s uniform, who surprisingly was not Peter Marino.

Spread from Silvia Prada’s book, Tom, 2018.

When the soiree ended, people went to the Cock (the site of what I like to call the Stefan Kalmár Memorial Staircase), where the unofficial afterparty took place. It was the perfect hangout for celebrating a woman’s interpretation of lubricious masculinity that Tom of Finland, aka Touko Valio Laaksonen, forever seared into the gay male imagination. I spoke with Bullock about the legacy of hyper-butch aesthetics as pioneered by Tom, and he suggested that “Silvia relocates the sensuality and style in work that is typically viewed as the cliché of ultra-macho masculinity, opening up an exciting dialogue about sexuality and focusing on what gay men and lesbians might share, what is universal.”

Tom of Finland’s clone images have infiltrated every single queer person’s brain, including mine. Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about the body standards he set for so many gay men—standards originally culled from a steroid-drenched fantasy. But I do take comfort in the fact that everyone feels good in leather.

Artist Silvia Prada (in white) and guests. (Photo: Lexie Moreland/WWD/Shutterstock)