GLBT History Museum Presents Traveling Exhibition of Gay Erotic Art, 1950s-1990s

From July to October, the GLBT History Museum will present a historical retrospective of erotic illustrations by artists who worked for gay men’s magazines from the 1950s to the 1990s. “Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum Wall” originated at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City. The San Francisco show is its only scheduled West Coast appearance.

Curated by artist Robert W. Richards, this exhibition of a largely forgotten body of work not only explores the male form, but also offers an examination of erotic fantasies as experienced through publications that were available at nearly every newsstand in America, but that men often hid under their mattresses for fear of being discovered. The exhibition will feature originals of illustrations from the magazines, along with related work that has never been seen publicly.

“Many of the early magazines pretended to be bodybuilding, strength and health journals,” says Richards. “Sometimes they were called anatomy guides for artists. However, most of the men bought these magazines because they were gay. It was nearly their only opportunity to see handsome, well-made, virtually naked men. Buying one of these publica­tions required an act of courage, espe­cially if the small-town drugstore owner had known the buyer and his family most of their lives.”

“Stroke” will run from July 21 to October 16, 2016, at the GLBT History Museum, located at 4127 18th St. in San Francisco. A public opening reception is set for Thursday, July 16, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. In addition, curator Robert Richards will join Leslie-Lohman Museum Director Hunter O’Hanian in presenting a gallery talk on Friday, July 22, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Admission for each event is $5.00; free for members of the GLBT Historical Society. For more information, visit

Time Out New York notes that Robert W. Richards “has drawn everything from Paris haute couture to album covers and Broadway and cabaret posters and stars.” But for his many admirers, Richards is best known for his skillful and captivating drawings of sexually charged men. Next magazine states, “He’s bound to go down in history as one of the gay community’s greatest and most influential artists.”
Now in his fifth decade of drawing, Richards is highly productive as an artist — and he occasionally pauses from his own work to curate exhibitions. At the Leslie-Lohman Museum, Richards has curated “The Gods of Erotica” and a Peter Berlin retrospective. At the Museum of the Society of Illustrators, he curated “The Line of Fashion.” According to Richards, “If something moves me, I’m willing to do the work to share it with people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to see what I’ve been fortunate enough to see.”