Welcome to the Establishment, Mr Jones, you may now safely wheel out your once risqué, now wince-inducing archaic women as furniture. Compare an artwork of the same era which borrowed the fetishistic imagery of Allen Jones’s women clad in bondage gear acting as domestic fittings; Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ approached him to dress the infamous Milk Bar which opened Anthony Burgess’s vision of a dystopian future London. It portrayed an extremity of all the moral wrongs that plague society. Now, for Jones’s sculptures, that unsavoury moral wrong that considers women as objects is – like the only superficially dated Clockwork Orange – regarded as a relic of a bygone era. Unlike a Clockwork Orange however, which highlights such misogyny as repugnant, his work has no ironic sub-layer justifying its existence. The RA shrugs this responsibility off by presenting it under the glittering art historical term Retrospective: so, the 60s were a bit grubby; adolescents (allegedly) gave John Peel blow jobs but it’s all a bit hazy really; the art could be a bit fruity.
Except, having been elected an Academician since 1986, this deeply unsettling indulgence of fetishistic drooling is now legitimised by the Establishment: by the beards; by the money; by art history. In a week when admirable athlete Jessica Ennis receives rape threats for speaking in favour of a rape victim, visitors are treated to a Serious Collection of Real Meaningful Art Objects of Cultural Value i.e. having their eye poked out by the inflated nipples of Kate Moss wearing one of Jones’s sculpted corsets. It serves to highlight that far from a bygone era, the sexualisation of the female anatomy remains a dominant currency which will eventually enable Kim Kardashian’s enormous rump to break free and form its own self sufficient super power. A publicity interview from the RA of Allen in his studio amongst his interchangeable naked robot mannequins, soft sax playing in the background, smacks of Hugh Hefner sitting flaccid amongst his pneumatic painted plastic Playboy bunnies. Except Hefner’s empire was and remains indebted to actual voluntary participation from the female sex.
This is not to say that sexism should be wiped from commercial art and history – the Guerrilla Girls are fighting on that front – as much great art is informed by male attitudes to women; the oeuvre of Picasso alone justifies it. Yet Jones is presented as a Pop Artist, and as such the misogyny is lazily subsumed into this category: Pop art satirises commercialism = sex sells = simple, duh. However one need look no further than Richard Hamilton for works which tackle these issues with infinitely more depth and thought: even his concave female curves on motor car parts have greater sophistication than Jones’s crude attempts using Blackpool plastic tits (compare ‘Hers is a Lush Situation’ against ‘Curious Woman’. I rest my case). Jones claims he wanted to shock the art world, and not the public. He has succeeded on the basis of perpetrating archaic sexism with no real artistic vigour to justify it: even Jack Vettriano’s worst offending boringly painted lap-dances and soft core scenes have greater technical merit (never a sentence I’d ever think I’d write). If the Chapman Brothers had created these, you know they would have been made, smirking, to simply take the piss, and that’s a worrying thought.
Words: Artbytch Photo: Paul Black © Artlyst 2014