NEW YORK — Silvia Prada beamed as friends gathered Thursday evening in celebration of “Tom,” her latest limited-edition book of pencil sketches done in collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation and based on the late Touko Laaksonen’s homoerotic oeuvre.
“It took a little while to find this space for the party,” said the Spanish-born artist of Participant Inc., a nonprofit art gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “I wanted something downtown, so this is perfect.”
Given the provocative nature of Prada’s latest release, the location on East Houston Street proved to be the ideal venue for the launch party. Once a gay bathhouse, some of the gallery’s richly patina-ed walls bear bullet holes from a Nineties drug raid. Much more tame with recent years of gentrification, the walls now house a retrospective from pioneering transgender artist and performer Jayne County, a fixture in the glam and punk rock scenes of the Seventies, whose art — like that of Tom of Finland’s — is filled with depictions of the male anatomy.
“It’s perfect,” noted DJ Honey Dijon of the no-frills venue. “It’s a New York situation. The message of ‘Tom’ is freedom without shame or guilt. It’s about celebrating sexuality that’s not defined by hetero-normative standards.”
Dijon, who splits her time between New York and Berlin, explained how the German capital is still a bastion of unbridled creative expression. “It’s still one of the freest cities in the world, which is why I live there,” said the transgender activist, who was wearing a custom-made leather jacket based on the work of Keith Haring. “It’s still very decadent and debauched and sexy. Everything isn’t so policed. It feels like what New York used to feel like.”
But that carefree spirit of yesteryear was very much present among the mostly leather-clad crowd who danced along to DJ Amber Valentine’s mix of disco tracks. Model Paige Reifler, who was hit by the flu throughout most of New York Fashion Week, was pleased to be on the mend for the evening.
“I was basically a hermit [during fashion week], but I’m really happy to be here tonight,” she said. “I’m a super big fan of Silvia as a creative. She’s so driven and passionate and beautiful.”
Another supporter of the artist was Kering Americas executive Laurent Claquin, who stopped by briefly to congratulate Prada, whose art he keeps on display in his Manhattan office. “I’m very excited to meet her for the first time tonight,” he exclaimed.
But even as the alcohol supply dwindled, the crowd wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. “Well, Thursday is the new Friday,” exclaimed one guest.
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