Inside an NYC Apartment with a Most Unusual Art Collection

Charles Leslie lives in a loft filled with so much phallic and homoerotic art, he and his late partner started the world’s first LGBTQ museum. But it’s their love story that caught our attention.

By: Leah Faye Cooper
Photography: Alec Kugler

When Charles Leslie met Fritz Lohman in 1962, it was a classic boy-meets-boy love story, with one small twist. The two were instantly attracted to each other, bonding over a shared love of great food, far-flung travels, and throwing parties. It was a much less predictable penchant, however, that ultimately solidified their relationship.

“One of our great bonds, apart from many others, was that we both had discreet collections of homoerotic art,” Leslie says. “So once that knowledge rang the bell, we spent a lot of our life looking for more.”

The two embraced a genre that was shunned from the art world at the time, transforming their Soho loft into a gallery where those who enjoyed and appreciated homoerotic art could view it sans ridicule or judgment. In 1969, when they first invited people over to see their collection, they expected around 50 guests; they ended up with 200. Thus the idea was sparked for the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art—the first LGBTQ art museum in the world, which Leslie and Lohman opened in 1987 on Wooster Street, not far from their home.

Lohman passed away in 2010, and today, 84-year-old Leslie resides in the apartment brimming with phallic art that he and his late partner collected over their 48 years together. “It’s amazing, the places we found it,” Leslie says of the collection, which includes a Warhol, a Haring, and a piece dating back to 300 BC. “You could find it anywhere if you looked—if you kept your eyes open.”

The most jaw-dropping aspect of Leslie’s 1,800-square-foot loft isn’t the fact that he and Lohman paid just $3,500 for it in 1966, or that the open space occupies an entire floor. Rather, it’s the incredible works inside, and the beautiful love story behind acquiring them. We were fortunate enough to get a tour, and we’ve thought about nothing else ever since.

Click through to see phallic door handles, a nineteenth-century dildo, and Leslie’s favorite piece of all time.

 

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