Censorship was the talk of the 16th annual Tom of Finland , which opened its two-day exhibition at West Hollywood Park Auditorium on Saturday. Dozens of exhibitors displayed their erotically themed artwork, while hundreds of people came through to see and purchase it.
Dedicated to preserving and exhibiting erotic art, Los-Angeles-based Tom of Finland puts on the fair each year.
Despite years of city sponsorship, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC) voted in January not to sponsor the art fair. One reason given was that the event would be taking place in the park “where there are children.”
Dan Berkowitz, co-chair of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and a former president of the Tom of Finland Foundation, was present at the ACAC meeting.
“The most alarming thing is none of the people on that commission are our enemies. They are one of us,” Berkowitz said. "When the LGBT community is attempting to censor its own ... things are really in trouble."
The vote provoked outrage across the gay community with cries that the gay community had gotten too far from its roots where homoerotic imagery was encouraged.
The City Council quickly moved to approve sponsorship of the arts fair. The event went on as scheduled, but not everyone was supportive.
Bo Tobin of the Tom of Finland Foundation reported that the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center declined to put up posters promoting the Erotic Arts Fair. Tobin said center workers were concerned about the poster containing the image of Michelangelo’s "David" and the use of the word “erotic.”
With censorship on everyone’s minds, the fair held a symposium Saturday afternoon titled: “Is Self-Censorship Really Self-Loathing in Gay Culture?”
Artist Michael Kirwan called the censorship controversy just part of a larger problem in the LGBT community.
“How can we be gay men without expressing our sexuality?” asked Kirwan. “Arts have always been a way for people with minds of courage to express themselves . . . allowing the most needy among us to commandeer our community.”
Berkowitz believes the problem is more insidious than censorship.
“We are all becoming victims of our success in mainstreaming gay culture,” he said. “Bare chaps may be OK in Silver Lake, but they’re not OK in La Jolla.”
Longtime activist Ivy Bottini, also a member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, believes the gay community has allowed larger organizations to take over what smaller, grass-roots groups once did.
“We have become a community of check writers,” she said. “We used to do protests in the streets. Unless we get off our butts, bare or not, we are digging our own graves.”
Bottini believes that in the push for same-sex marriage, the LGBT community has been cleaned up for better presentation to the rest of society. And by cleaning up, many on the edge are being left out.
Michael Thorn, editor-in-chief of Instigator magazine, agreed, saying that corporate sponsorship of gay pride has diluted pride because the companies want to clean things up and get rid of the rough edges.
“Everybody’s got a right to be normal, but there is something even better about not being normal,” said Tobin.
Later in the afternoon, Mayor John Heilman and Councilwoman Abbe Land came to officially open the arts fair. Fair organizers thanked Heilman and Land for the city gifting them the use of the auditorium. Heilman replied that it was not a gift from the city, but rather “it’s a gift to us to have you here.”
Heilman said he hoped the Erotic Arts Fair would continue to be in West Hollywood for years to come and added that he would do anything possible to make sure it stays in the city.
Land commented on how thrilled she has been over the years to see the fair grow, first in and now in . Noticing how the entire auditorium was filled with artists and exhibitors, Land added, “We need to find a bigger venue for you.”