20
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland’ at The Museum Of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA)

Exhibition dates: 2nd November 2013 – 26th January 2014
MOCA Pacific Design Center

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*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART WORK OF MALE NUDITY AND EROTIC IMAGES OF GAY MALE SEX – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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What a fantastic pairing in this exhibition and in their relationship in real life. We must remember that Tom of Finland was a ground-breaking artist, one of the very first to picture masculine gay men, “robbing straight homophobic culture of its most virile and masculine archetypes (bikers, hoodlums, lumberjacks, cops, cowboys and sailors) and recasting them – through deft skill and fantastic imagination – as unapologetic, self-aware and boastfully proud enthusiasts of gay sex.”

He would have only just been in his twenties when he started drawing men in the early 1940s, inspired by the soldiers and uniforms he saw around him from the Second World War. With no outward gay culture in Finland, let alone in America until the late 1960s, just imagine being an artist producing this kind of erotic imagery at that time. To go on to be the seminal figure in the creation of gay leather culture… what an impact this artist had on gay and popular culture. Of course, as tastes were liberalised in the era of free love, Stonewall and after, the muscles of his hunks became bigger, the size of their endowments larger and the actions portrayed became more open and transparent (as can be seen from Untitled (From Beach Boy 2 story), 1971, below).

During my PhD research I visited the One Institute/International Gay and Lesbian Archives Collection, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, to investigate the cross-over between physique magazines and early gay pornography magazines of the 1960s to early 1970s. I was interested to see whether the muscular mesomorphic bodies of the physique magazines crossed straight over into the first gay pornography magazines. To my surprise, the answer was that they did not.

After the American Supreme Court ruled on obscenity laws in the late 1960s, the first gay pornography magazines started appearing. The earliest gay porn magazine in the One Institute/IGLA collection, Action Line. No.1. San Francisco: Mark Vaughn Associates. 1969, features mostly smooth but natural bodies, not as built as in physique magazines, with nude young men with full erections lying next too each other touching. There is no sex, no sucking or fucking. Only a year later, in 1970, the story if different. In Album 1501: A Study of Sexual Activity Between Males. Los Angeles: Greyhuff Publishing, 1970 their is sexual intercourse pictured between men  in an openly available publication for the first time.

Bodies in this magazine are smooth, young toned men, much as in the early photographs of George Platt Lynes (such as those of Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball). They are also similar to the bodies in the photographs that Lynes submitted to the Zurich published homosexual magazine Der Kries after he found out that he had cancer, during the last years of his life (under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf late 1940s – early 1950s). The participants in Album 1501 perform sex on each other in a lounge room lit by strong lights (shadows on walls). The black and white photographs, well shot, feature in a magazine that is about 5″ wide and 10″ high, well laid out and printed. The magazine is a thin volume and features just the two models in one sex scene of them undressing each other and then having sex. One man wears a Pepsi-Cola T-shirt at first and he also has tattoos one of which says ‘Cheri’. The photographs almost have a private feel to them.

In their introduction the publishers disclaim any agreement with the content of the magazine and are only publishing it for the freedom of everybody to study the material in the privacy of their own homes. In other words male to male sex is a natural phenomenon and the publication is educational. This was a common ploy in early nudist and pornographic publications (along with classical themes) that was used to justify the content – to claim that the material was for private educational purposes only:

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Introduction.

“Publishers of material dealing frankly with sexual activity have suffered greatly in the past because of society’s anxiety over the existence and propagation of such material. But the real issue is why should such material dealing with sexual activity be any less valid or acceptable than material dealing with other facets of human behaviour? …
This book was produced so that all interested adults may have an opportunity to acquire it for their own private interests in matters relating to sex …
Our publication of this book is not to be construed that we agree with, condone or encourage any of the behaviour depicted herein. However, sexual activity between males is a fact of life and interested adults should not be denied an opportunity to study this, or any other, facet of human behaviour.”

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The Publishers.

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It is interesting to note the progression from physique magazines and models in posing pouches in 1966-68 (such as the photographs of Bob Mizer featured in this posting), then to full erection and stories of anal penetration in Action Line in 1969, to full on photographs of gay sex in this magazine in 1970. Bodies are all smooth, quite solid, toned natural physiques, not as ‘built’ as in earlier physique magazines, but still featuring younger smooth men and not older heavier set men. It was not until the development of the clone, leatherman and magazines such a Colt from Colt Studios that Tom of Finland’s muscular mesomorphic leatherman took hold in the popular gay imagination.

Even in the mid 1970’s companies such as Colt Studios, which has built a reputation for photographing hunky, very well built masculine men, used classical themes in their photography of muscular young men. Most of the early Colt magazines have photographs of naked young men that are accompanied by photographs and illustrations based on classical themes. In their early magazines quite a large proportion of the bodies were hirsute or had moustaches as was popular with the ‘clone’ image at the time. Later Colt models of the early 1980’s tend towards the buff, tanned, stereotypical muscular mesomorph in even greater numbers. Sometimes sexual acts are portrayed in Colt magazines but mainly they are not. It is the “look” of the body and the face that the viewers desiring gaze is directed towards – not the sexual act itself.

Photographers such as Bob Mizer from Athletic Model Guild produced more openly homoerotic images. In his work from the 1970’s full erections are not prevalent but semi-erect penises do feature, as do revealing “moon” shots from the rear focusing on the arsehole as a site for male libidinal desires. A less closeted, more open expression of homosexual desire can be seen in the photographs of the male body in the 1970’s.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to The Museum Of Contemporary Art (MOCA) for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Bob Mizer. 'Physique Pictorial Volume 16 Number 4, February 1968' 1968

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Bob Mizer
Physique Pictorial Volume 16 Number 4, February 1968
1968
Publication
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' 1962

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled
1962
Graphite on paper
12.00″ x 9.50″
ToFF Cat. #62.27, Collection of Volker Morlock
© 1962 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Bob Mizer. 'Physique Pictorial Volume 11 Number 4, May 1962' 1962

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Bob Mizer
Physique Pictorial Volume 11 Number 4, May 1962
1962
Publication
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Physique Pictorial Volume 7 Number 1, 1957' 1957

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Bob Mizer
Physique Pictorial Volume 7 Number 1, 1957
1957
Publication
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Physique Pictorial Volume 10 Number 4, April 1961' 1961

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Bob Mizer
Physique Pictorial Volume 10 Number 4, April 1961
1961
Publication
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (1 of 4 from 'Circus Life' series) 1961

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (1 of 4 from Circus Life series)
1961
Graphite on paper
12.25″ x 9.75″
Bob Mizer/AMG Collection, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #61.11
© 1961 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Bob Mizer. 'Jim Horn, Los Angeles' c. 1966

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Bob Mizer
Jim Horn, Los Angeles
c. 1966
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Barry Maurer, Hand on Gun], Los Angeles' c. 1961

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Barry Maurer, Hand on Gun], Los Angeles
c. 1961
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Larry Lamb, with Tumbleweed], Los Angeles' c. 1959

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Larry Lamb, with Tumbleweed], Los Angeles
c. 1959
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' 1968

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled
1968
Graphite on paper
12.94″ x 9.38″
ToFF Cat. #68.06, Collection of Volker Morlock
© 1968 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Youthful Innocence' 1969

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Youthful Innocence
1969
The New Biker Stud – Bob Mizer title
Graphite on paper
11.75″ x 8.50″
ToFF Cat. #69.02, Collection of Volker Morlock
© 1969 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (No.1 from 'Cyclist and the Farm Boy' series) 1973

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (No.1 from Cyclist and the Farm Boy series)
1973
Graphite on paper
11″ x 8″
Bob Mizer/AMG Collection, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #73.10
© 1973 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Ray Hornsby, Motorcycle], Los Angeles' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Ray Hornsby, Motorcycle], Los Angeles
c. 1957
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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“To my mind, there is no clearer representation of Mizer’s almost manic attempts to condense the joyful, celebratory chaos of his daily photo shoots down to their most selectively stupendous moments than his catalogue boards.” – artist and exhibition co-curator Richard Hawkins”

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“The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), is proud to present Bob Mizer and Tom of the Finland, the first American museum exhibition devoted to the art of Bob Mizer (1922-1992) and Touko Laaksonen, aka “Tom of Finland” (1920-1991), two of the most significant figures of twentieth century erotic art and forefathers of an emergent post-war gay culture. The exhibition features a selection of Tom of Finland’s masterful drawings and collages, alongside Mizer’s rarely seen photo-collage “catalogue boards” and films, as well as a comprehensive collection of his groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial, where drawings by Tom were first published in 1957. Organized by MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson and guest co-curator Richard Hawkins, the exhibition is presented with the full collaboration of the Bob Mizer Foundation, El Cerrito, and the Tom of Finland Foundation, Los Angeles.

Tom of Finland is the creator of some of the most iconic and readily recognizable imagery of post-war gay culture. He produced thousands of images beginning in the 1940s, robbing straight homophobic culture of its most virile and masculine archetypes (bikers, hoodlums, lumberjacks, cops, cowboys and sailors) and recasting them – through deft skill and fantastic imagination – as unapologetic, self-aware and boastfully proud enthusiasts of gay sex. His most innovative achievement though, worked out in fastidious renderings of gear, props, settings and power relations inherent therein, was to create the depictions that would eventually become the foundation of an emerging gay leather culture. Tom imagined the leather scene by drawing it; real men were inspired by it … and suited themselves up.

Bob Mizer began photographing as early as 1942 but, unlike many of his contemporaries in the subculture of illicit physique nudes, Mizer took the Hollywood star-system approach and founded the Athletic Model Guild in 1945, a film and photo studio specializing in handsome natural-bodied (as opposed to exclusively musclebound, the norm of the day) boy-next-door talent. In his myriad satirical prison dramas, sci-fi flix, domesticated bachelor scenarios and elegantly captivating studio sessions, Mizer photographed and filmed over 10,000 models at a rough estimate of 60 photos a day, seven days a week for almost 50 years. Mizer always presented a fresh-faced and free, unashamed and gregarious, totally natural and light-hearted approach to male nudity and intimate physical contact between men. For these groundbreaking perspectives in eroticized representation alone, Mizer ranks with Alfred Kinsey at the forefront of the sexual revolution.

Though Laaksonen did not move to Los Angeles until the 1970s, he had long known of Mizer and the photographer’s work through Physique Pictorial, the house publication and sales tool for Athletic Model Guild. It was to this magazine that the artist first sent his drawings and it was Mizer, finding the artworks remarkable and seeking to promote them on the magazine’s cover, but finding the artist’s Finnish name too difficult for his clientele, who is responsible for the now famous “Tom of Finland” pseudonym.

By the time the gay liberation movement swept through the United States in the late 1960s, both Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer were already well-known and widely celebrated as veritable pioneers of gay art. Decades before Stonewall and the raid on the Black Cat these evocative and lusty representations of masculine desire and joyful, eager sex between men proliferated and were disseminated worldwide at a time when the closet was still very much the norm – there was no such thing as a gay community. If these artists were not ahead of their time, they might just have foreseen and even invented a time.

Spanning five decades, the exhibition seeks a wider appreciation for Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer’s work, considering their aesthetic influence on generations of artists, both gay and straight, among them, Kenneth Anger, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, David Hockney, G.B. Jones, Mike Kelley, Robert Mapplethorpe, Henrik Olesen, Jack Pierson, John Waters, and Andy Warhol. The exhibition also acknowledges the profound cultural and social impact both artists have made, especially in providing open, powerful imagery for a community of desires at a time when it was still very much criminal. Presenting the broader historical context and key aspects of their shared interests and working relationship, as well as more in-depth solo rooms dedicated to each artist, the exhibition establishes the art historical importance of the staggering work of these legendary figures.

In addition to approximately 75 finished and preparatory drawings by Tom of Finland spanning 1947-1991, the exhibition includes a selection of Tom’s never before exhibited scrapbook collages, and examples of his serialized graphic novels, including the legendary leatherman Kake, as well as a selection of Mizer’s “catalogue boards,” AMG films, and a complete set of Physique Pictorial magazine. An accompanying publication includes texts by the exhibition co-curators and a selection of images.”

Press release from the MOCA website

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Ray Hornsby, with Skull Staff], Los Angeles' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Ray Hornsby, with Skull Staff], Los Angeles
c. 1957
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Ernie Rabb, Pointed Pistol], Los Angeles' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Ernie Rabb, Pointed Pistol], Los Angeles
c. 1957
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (From 'Beach Boy 1' story) 1971

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (From Beach Boy 1 story)
1971
Pen and ink, gouache on paper
8.25″ x 5.75″
COQ International Collection, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #71.24
© 1971 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (From 'Jungle Seafood' story) 1972

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (From Jungle Seafood story)
1972
Pen and ink, gouache on paper
8.63″ x 6.94″
Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #72.41
© 1972 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Larry Lamb, Profile with Chains], Los Angeles' c. 1959

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Larry Lamb, Profile with Chains], Los Angeles
c. 1959
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Dennis Schreffer, Wand Balance], Los Angeles' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Dennis Schreffer, Wand Balance], Los Angeles
c. 1957
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Bob Mizer. 'Untitled [Dennis Schreffer with Portrait], Los Angeles' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Untitled [Dennis Schreffer with Portrait], Los Angeles
c. 1957
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10 inches
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (From 'Beach Boy 2' story) 1971

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (From Beach Boy 2 story)
1971
Pen and ink, gouache on paper
8.25″ x 5.25″
Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #71.45
© 1971 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (From 'Beach Boy 2' story) 197

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (From Beach Boy 2 story)
1971
Pen and ink, gouache on paper
8.25″ x 5.25″
Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #71.58
© 1971 Tom of Finland Foundation

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Bob Mizer. 'Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, David Elliott. [Double-sided; This side Page 1 of SW series]' c. 1965

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Bob Mizer
Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, David Elliott. [Double-sided; This side Page 1 of SW series]
c. 1965
Photographs mounted to matboard and mixed media
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Proposed purchase with funds provided by the Photography Committee
The Bob Mizer Foundation & INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, New York

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Bob Mizer. 'Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, David Elliott. [Double-sided; This side Page 2 of SW series]' c. 1965

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Bob Mizer
Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, David Elliott. [Double-sided; This side Page 2 of SW series]
c. 1965
Photographs mounted to matboard and mixed media
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Proposed purchase with funds provided by the Photography Committee
The Bob Mizer Foundation & INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, New York

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Bob Mizer. 'Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, Ernie Rabb. [Double-sided; This side Page 57 of XT series]' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, Ernie Rabb. [Double-sided; This side Page 57 of XT series]
c. 1957
Photographs mounted to matboard and mixed media
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Proposed purchase with funds provided by the Photography Committee
The Bob Mizer Foundation & INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, New York

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Bob Mizer. 'Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, Ernie Rabb. [Double-sided; This side Page 58 of XT series]' c. 1957

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Bob Mizer
Athletic Model Guild Catalog Board, Ernie Rabb. [Double-sided; This side Page 58 of XT series]
c. 1957
Photographs mounted to matboard and mixed media
Printed with permission of Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc .
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Proposed purchase with funds provided by the Photography Committee
The Bob Mizer Foundation & INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, New York

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' (From 'Beach Boy 2' story) 1971

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Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991)
Untitled (From Beach Boy 2 story)
1971
Pen and ink, gouache on paper
8.25″ x 5.25″
Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #71.61
© 1971 Tom of Finland Foundation

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MOCA Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Opening hours:
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Tues – Fri 11 am – 5 pm
Sat, Sun 11 am – 6 pm

MOCA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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