los-angeles

Cover of Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial, vol. 16, no. 4 (April 1968), featuring a 1962 drawing by Tom of Finland.

Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland

MOCA Pacific Design Center

Cover of Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial, vol. 16, no. 4 (April 1968), featuring a 1962 drawing by Tom of Finland.

In Victorian times, the site of gay pleasure, sensuality, and communality was the ol’ swimming hole, celebrated by artists like Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, Thomas Eakins and Henry Scott Tuke. Photographer and publisher Bob Mizer and illustrator Touko Laaksonen (“Tom of Finland”) relocated the Victorian Eden to the filling stations, pools, bars, gyms, and barracks of a postwar landscape remarkably like Los Angeles, a sunbaked utopia where every man’s a dreamboat and he’s bursting out of his jeans to get at you. In recent years, Mizer’s and Laaksonen’s respective foundations (both artists died in the early 1990s) have attempted to insert their work into a high-art context; the MoCA Pacific Design Center show was only the latest—and perhaps most prominent—manifestation of this ambition.

The exhibition tamed a staggering proliferation into two large galleries and an anteroom,

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