Sunday, 27 January 2013

Allen Jones - sculptures

Chair, 1969

Allen Jones RA (born 1 September 1937) is a British pop artist, best known for his sculptures. He lives and works in London.

Jones' exhibition of erotic sculptures, such as the set Chair, Table and Hat Stand (1969), are studies in forniphilia, which turn women into items of human furniture. Much of his work draws on the imagery of rubber fetishism and BDSM.

The sculptures in the Korova Milkbar from the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange were based on works by Jones after he turned down the request by Stanley Kubrick to design the set for no payment.

Jones designed Barbet Schroeder's 1976 film MaƮtresse.

Table, 1969

In 1969 three female figures by Allen Jones each slightly larger than life size, ‘Hatstand’, ‘Table’ and ‘Chair’, were cast in fibreglass in editions of 6 by Gems Wax Models Ltd of Notting Hill, London, a firm of commercial sculptors who made (and make) shop window mannequins and sculptures for waxworks. Stylistically the figures are similar to those in Jones's paintings of c.1967–8. For the figures Jones made working drawings from memory, not in front of a model. From these drawings a professional sculptor, Dick Beech of Gems Wax Models, produced clay figures under Jones's direction; these clay figures were modified in accordance with his intentions. He wanted to make sculpture ‘without fine art marks, devoid of fine art clothing’. When the first, ‘Hatstand’, a standing figure, was finished he realized that it might be construed as a bizarre window mannequin and so he decided to process the figure so that it would not appear to be just a decorative object. This he did by giving the other two sculptures a more obvious function, that of being a table and a chair, so that the viewer's expectation of what could be fine art would be questioned and allow the viewer to perceive the figure anew as a subject in art.

In Jones's view ‘because these 3 sculptures of women are recognisably representational it is less obvious that the sculpture is not about being naturalistic. They are not so much about representing woman but the experience of woman, not an illusion’.
With reference to his work in general Jones considers that:

'The erotic impulse transcends cerebral barriers and demands a direct emotional response. Confronted with an abstract statement people readily defer to an expert; but confronted with an erotic statement everyone is an expert. It seems to me a democratic idea that art should be accessible to everyone on some level, and eroticism in one such level’.

Jones considers that the three sculptures ‘Hatstand’, ‘Table’ and ‘Chair’ are the most radical statements that he has made.

Hatstand, 1969

After all this time, for good or ill, it is those pieces of female furniture that his name is likely to bring to mind. They are, like Warhol's Marilyns, or Lichtenstein's comic-book paintings, emblematic of the spirit of the 1960s – although, some would say, of a distasteful aspect of it.

"Artists," Jones says, "don't live in a vacuum any more than politicians or writers or anybody else." When he made those sculptures, he was responding to a strand in Sixties culture and fashion. The specialist firm that made the leather costumes for Jones's sculptures also made the costumes Diana Rigg wore in the TV series The Avengers.

"I was living in Chelsea and I had an interest in the female figure and the sexual charge that comes from it. Every Saturday on the King's Road you went out and skirts were shorter, the body was being displayed in some new way. And you knew that the following week somebody would up the ante."

In retrospect, Jones feels, "I was reflecting on and commenting on exactly the same situation that was the source of the feminist movement. It was unfortunate for me that I produced the perfect image for them to show how women were being objectified."

Jones hoped that those furniture pieces would produce a strong reaction in the viewer, but he got more than he bargained for. In the ensuing decade his work was angrily attacked.

"Smoke bombs and stink bombs and God knows what were thrown at my ICA show in 1978. There was an incredible furore on the Mall. The Guardian suggested I should not be allowed to exhibit. It was tough stuff and I wasn't expecting it."

One irony is that Jones is, he protests, a card-carrying feminist himself. In person, he is a mild, articulate and rather intellectual man.

Nearly 40 years on, the Table and other pieces look less startling and more part of a tradition that now includes sexualised mannequins by Jeff Koons and the Chapman brothers. Jones certainly isn't apologising for them.

"More and more as time goes by, when someone tries to find an image to show how people were in those times, they might easily use one of my sculptures."
Martin Gayford

Apologists for Jones have argued that his representations of women are merely a lure, drawing the viewer into an aesthetic game, or else they have pointed to the artist’s interest in Jung and Nietzsche, arguing that his representations of the body are an attempt to reconcile the bisexual nature of the human psyche. Both arguments are disingenuous. Jones’ project is not primarily a formalist one. Moreover, although he sometimes shows male and female bodies merging, and his female characters are often extremely ‘masculine’ (the images in Shoe Box, for example, often look like men’s feet in drag), his work is concerned with sexual difference, not some mythical sexual homogeneity. Jones’ subject is the female body as it exists in the male imagination.

Feminists recognised this instantly. In an article on Jones published in 1973, Laura Mulvey analysed his use of fetishism in classic Freudian terms. Women’s bodies signify to men the possibility of castration: the fetishist is fixated by castration anxiety; hence, in his fantasies, the woman must be brought together with phallic substitutes (in an act of narcissistic completion) or punished for her lack of phallus (in an assertion of difference). Often these strategies coincide - the stiletto, for example, is both the wearer’s weapon and punishment.

It is hard to deny the relevance of this account of fetishism to Jones’ work. However, it is quite another thing to argue, as some did, that Jones’ work should be suppressed. This brings us smack into debates on pornography and censorship: at what point should we restrict the circulation of images? It is certainly true that Jones’ work seems tame now, but does this mean, as proponents of censorship seem to argue, that perversion is contagious? The wide response found by work like Jones’ since the 70s suggests that, at some level, fetishism is a normative, rather than a pathological, phenomenon in our society.
Mark Sladen

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