Anna McNay

Video Review of Allen Jones RA at the Royal Academy of Arts


Allen Jones RA

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens, London

13 November 2014 – 25 January 2015

Risking the wrath of many, London’s
Royal Academy is playing host to a long-overdue thematic overview of the controversial
works of British pop artist Allen Jones.

Best known for his iconic furniture
pieces – Table, Hat Stand and Chair (all 1969) – the latter of which was
attacked with paint stripper by feminist campaigners in 1986, Jones’s work
encompasses far more than just these furore-inducing sculptures. From
beautifully crafted drawings to vibrant large-scale fauve-style paintings to
painted steel sculptures, his range of media is wide, but his focus and subject
matter remain consistent.

Jones’s fascination with the figure
and sexuality emerged early on in his works, with pieces such as Hermaphrodite (1963) and Untitled (Man Woman) (1963) showing a fusion of forms that is
later picked up in his paintings and sculptures of couples dancing, bodies
close, becoming one. Repeated emblems recur, such as legs, which take centre
stage in paintings like First Step (1966) and Drama (1966) – both with the
entwining of male and female counterparts – and 3D pieces such as Secretary (1972).
But it is legs in motion that really fascinate Jones, and his dance works are
apparently so accurate that one critic claimed to be able to recognise which
dance was being carried out by each sculptural pair.

Jones, who began painting at the
height of abstract expressionism, sought to prove that figuration was not dead.
He wanted to extract the figure from the flat surface of the canvas. His steel
sculptures involve bending and twisting of metal to create the shapes of
individuals and couples. Maquettes for these can be enjoyed in a small room in
which his studio shelving is replicated – an insight into the workings of his
mind and hand.

Further such insights can be seen
in some of the storyboards and sketches displayed in the room of drawings –
each image a step towards the final scenario depicted large in the finished painted
works, many of which involve dense and complex scenarios, full of movement.

Movement is key to Jones, and his
experimentations with representing motion can also be seen in his Bus paintings,
where the tilt and blur give the idea of the energy of the vehicle passing by.

Continuing with the idea of dance,
the final room is bisected by a chorus line of sculptures, starting with Red
(1982), which relates to the paintings and sculptures in the previous
rooms, and progressing through Hat Stand, London Hollywood (1979) and
Refrigerator (2002), to the more recent commissions with Kate Moss – resulting
in the photograph Body Armour (2013),
in which the model wears Jones’s 1976 metallic body cast Cover Story 
and Darcey Bussell, and ending with a new work produced for the Royal Academy, To be or not to be (2014), in which the
figure steps completely away from the ground.

Curious Woman (1965) represents one
of Jones’s early attempts to lift the figure out of a 2D representation. He
bought the breasts from a joke shop in New York, but then had some trouble
using the resin to cast them, as it kept heating up and melting them. Luckily,
it was winter and he found a solution by opening the window and placing them in
a snow bank on his window ledge, thus enabling the casting process.

Jones has often been the subject of
attack for sexist, objectifying works. Ironically, his choice of fetish
clothing on many of his sculptures keeps his work fresh and timeless. Playboy has, indeed, been the source of much of
his material, but his response to it is actually very tongue-in-cheek and his
representations of the female form consider it from all angles, as a kind of
icon. Love it or hate it, Jones’s work still has the power to shock, 50 years
after it was made. He is a key figure in British art history and a Royal
Academician well deserving of this exuberant show.

To watch this video review, please go to: