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Patrick Staff: The Foundation

8 August–10 October 2015

Curated by Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh


The Foundation is a major film installation by Patrick Staff, co-commissioned by the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) with Chisenhale Gallery, London; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; and Spike Island, Bristol. In this new work Staff explores queer intergenerational relationships negotiated through historical materials. The film combines footage shot at the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles– home to the archive of the erotic artist and gay icon and a community of people that care for it–with choreographic sequences shot within a specially constructed set. The language of the stage set is extended by Staff’s new group of freestanding sculptural works based on stage flats, commissioned for  this exhibition, which make use of materials designed to construct the image of an exterior.

The legacy of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), better known as Tom of Finland, spans multiple generations. His work made a considerable impact on masculine representation and imagery in post-war gay culture. The Foundation was established in 1984 by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner to preserve his vast catalogue of homoerotic art, whilst endeavouring to–to quote the organisation’s website–‘educate the public to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.’ Today, Durk runs the organisation and lives in the house, along with a handful of other employees and artists.

Rather than focusing on Tom of Finland’s work, Staff’s film evokes the Foundation as a set of relations. The artist explores how a collection is formed and constituted; the communities that produce and are produced by a body of work; and ideas of intergenerational relationships and care. Through observational footage of the house, its collections and inhabitants, the Foundation is revealed as a domestic environment, a libidinal space, archive, office and community centre; a private space which is also the home of a public-facing organisation and the source of a widely dispersed body of images.

The Foundation Publication

A publication departing from the project is being released in conjunction with the exhibition and features texts by Isla Leaver-Yap and Catherine Lord as well as an interview with Staff and the Tom of Finland Foundation’s S.R. Sharp. The volume is a collaboration between Institute of Modern Art (IMA), Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG), Chisenhale Gallery, and Spike Island. It is published by IMA, Mousse Publishing, and CAG. Purchase the publication here.


Patrick Staff is based in London, UK, and Los Angeles, USA. Selected exhibitions, screenings, and performances include Scaffold see Scaffold, The Showroom, London; Art Turning Left, Tate Liverpool; L’Heure Des Sorcieres, Le Quartier, France (all 2014); Mental effort Before Action: 1-5A-5B, South London Gallery; A Factory As It Might Be (Bournville), International Project Space, Birmingham; Society is a Workshop, Banff Centre, Canada (all 2013); Chewing Gum for the Social Body, The Tanks, Tate Modern, London (2012). Staff took part in the LUX Associate Artists Programme in 2010/11 and was the inaugural White Building/Lux Collection Residency artist (2014).

Exhibition Partners




The Foundation is co-commissioned by Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Chisenhale Gallery, London; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; and Spike Island, Bristol. Co-produced by Chisenhale Gallery and Spike Island. Courtesy of the artist.


The Foundation is supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, The Elephant Trust, the Genesis Prize, and the IMA’s 40th Anniversary Funds.


With thanks to the Tom of Finland Foundation.