For a generation of closeted gay and bisexual men beginning in the 1950s, homoerotic art was as close as the nearest newsstand. But, when magazines such as “Grecian Guild Pictorial,” “Tomorrow’s Man,” and later, “Blueboy,” “Torso,” “Mandate” and “InTouch,” made it home, they were often tucked under the bed or hidden in a drawer.
“Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall,” an historical retrospective exhibition of 23 original erotic illustrations and paintings from the pages of those magazines,” opens this week at the Stonewall Museum – Wilton Manors Gallery.
The exhibit was originally assembled last year by the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City and curated by artist Robert W. Richards, one of the frequent contributors to those magazines.
According to Richards, the Fort Lauderdale edition of “Stroke” not only explores the male form, but for the first time, offers an examination of gay male private life, as experienced through magazines that were available on every corner in America—but often kept under mattresses for fear of being discovered.
“Many of the early magazines pretended to be bodybuilding, strength and health journals,” he explained. “Sometimes they were called ‘anatomy guides for artists.’ However, most of the men bought these magazines because they were gay.”
For decades, the U.S. government had cracked down on “sexual perversion” and actively prosecuted consumers who received naked male images through the mail.
“Buying one of these publications required an act of courage, especially if the small-town drugstore owner knew the buyer and his family,” added Richards.
Demand for these magazines grew, however, during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and after the Stonewall riots. These publications are credited with launching the careers of famed artists, including Tom of Finland.
Leslie-Lohman Museum director Hunter O’Hanian noted the exhibit is just the first of many collaborations planned with the Stonewall Museum and National Archives and other LGBT history and art museums around the world.
While Leslie-Lohman only received museum designation from the State of New York in 2011, the museum actually got its start in 1987, when founders Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman began assembling the artworks of friends who had died during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
“A lot of families would come in and throw everything away as their sons died….part of that was gay artwork,” O’Hanian said in a telephone interview. “The museum was founded as a way to preserve this artwork,” and the collection now boasts more than 24,000 pieces.
And, as the AIDS epidemic has become a dark period in gay history, the museum has expanded its focus to speak to the larger LGBTQ community and its culture, he added.
“We are pleased to be collaborating with the Leslie-Lohman Museum,” said David Jobin, executive director of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. The exhibit they created with ‘Stroke’ will be of considerable interest to the gay population whose coming out years intersect with the publications in which these images were featured.”
“Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall” will be on display through March 8 at the Stonewall Museum – Wilton Manors Gallery, 2157 Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors. An opening reception will be held Friday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. For more information, go to Stonewall-Museum.org.