Anybody visiting the Royal Academy’s retrospective of the infamous works of Allen Jones and remains comfortable in the company of these convincingly lifelike semi-naked women in a verity of bondage outfit, should check the date in their Filofax, the chances are you still living in 1970.
Back in the late sixties Jones had already made a name for himself as a painter and one of a new breed of emerging Pop artist that included Blake, Hockney, Kitaj. and Boshier destined to change the face of both British and American art forever. But it was not until a solo exhibition at the Tooth Gallery London did he establish himself as the Devil incarnate to the feminist movement and indeed to anyone who felt the fine line had been crossed between outrageous young artist and the figurehead of pure chauvinistic opportunism.
Objectification of women
Women as furniture: women to be displayed in sexually submissive positions, humiliated, subjugated their identity lost they become Hat Stand, Table and Chair. Jones said of the work in a BBC interview “my first thought was to dress the models in clothes from C&A in much the same style that my mother wore, but then had the idea that fetish clothing would enhance their form. The reasoning behind seeing them as furniture was influenced from a idea I had seen in a adult comic book which featured human furniture. I was not making a object out of the women, the women were the subject, the object was the sculpture”.
This exhibition is shocking, well actually no, after five decades of AJs furniture the shock factor has worn thin leaving the enlightened audience to evaluate the work on taste and judgement, rather then the active protests of the past, that ranged from the rather silly stink bomb incident at the ICA in 1978 or the paint stripper attack of his work Chair at the Tate in 1986, both of which only added notoriety to the work and a lot more value to the sales. There has after all never been a shortage of well off investors willing to buy in to the Allen Jones experiment, Elton John bought a full set, as did Gunter Sachs who sold his set in 2012 for £2.6 million, people are willing to buy into a investment that continues to attract publicity even if as it seems for all the wrong reasons. But has Allen Jones sold himself too cheaply, will he always be remembered not for the talented artist that he most certainly is, but for what many consider a exploitative gimmick. Away from the controversial topics there are wonderful works in the this exhibition, paintings that vibrate with the energy which was the trade mark of Pop Art, the dancing figures sucks the observer into the epicentre of the drama, TO BE OR NOT TO BE at the far end of the room applies the last nail of rational thought as a subject steps from the canvas into a 3D reality. Allen Jones is 77 it’s now a lifetime ago since he was expelled from the Royal College of Art after just one year for what they considered excessive independence, this historic wording alone acted as an endorsement of Allen Jones as one of the few truly independent thinking artist of his time.
Words David Coomber
Images courtesy of the artist
Our thanks to the Royal Academy
Allen Jones at the Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
13 November 2014-25 January 2015
Open Saturday-Thursday 10am-6pm