Allen Jones has been vilified by a generation. Coming across as a kind Duchampian fetishist with misogynistic tendencies – Jones was an easy target. Way back in 1969 he made a a body of work that upset a great may people; three sculptures of scantily-clad female figures arranged in positions that enabled them to be turned into a table, a chair and a hat stand. The figures were rather realistic and sexualised, and on exhibition provoked outrage among the feminist community. Jones’s 1978 retrospective of graphic art at the ICA caused calamity and in 1986, when the chair went on display, it was attacked with acid.
Jones is a highly respected artist in Europe; particularly in Germany – yet he has been ostracised in the UK. The artist’s last museum show was at the Barbican in 1995. With the most recent survey of the artist’s work taking place at the Serpentine Gallery in 1979. The artist has not had a serious retrospective in Britain for some 35 years. Jones is seen internationally as having greatly influenced Pop Art in the 60s – yet has been considered taboo for great socio-cultural transgressions in this country. Was the artist’s work misunderstood?
Jones gives his opinion to the Spectator on the subject, ‘For artists of my generation, coming on stream in the Sixties, whatever you did you had to reckon with American gestural abstraction. The problem with figurative art at the time was that it had run out of steam, but the polemic was that you couldn’t do it any more, which seemed absurd after 4,000 years of people making representations of each other. To me the Pop movement was incontrovertibly a swing of the pendulum back towards representation. The problem wasn’t with representation, it was the age-old one — with the language. And the language had run out of steam. Using urban imagery as source material revitalised figurative painting, without a doubt. And recently the main thrust of the avant-garde from Basquiat and Schnabel up to Koons and company has been figuration with a vengeance.’
In the early 1960s, Duchamp – entirely unknown to the British public – inspired a British artistic revolution in terms of practice. The leader of this movement, and the artist who invented British “pop” arguably before anybody else; was Richard Hamilton. Hamilton was an expert on Duchamp. He studied and “typotranslated” his complex notes, and created a replica of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ that was so accurate Duchamp signed it as his own work in typical non-authorial fashion.
As the 60s got into full ‘swing’, and the consumer revolution got under way in Britain, artist’s responded to the inherent desires of television and pop music; pop art portrayed this new era – a great commercial Duchampian joke. Jones reflected this absurdity in the middle of a sexual revolution that would change society forever.
But the artist’s work was viewed as misogynistic propaganda; an assault against feminist sensibilities – that still provokes unease in many a curator today – imagining mass demonstrations against the slightest hint of works to be displayed – where instead Jones saw satire and the reflection of an age of cynical absurdity.
The artist states to the spectator: ‘I find the attitude of people under 35 to sexuality and display is that it’s just a part of the spectrum of existence,’ he says. ‘In a way the feminist critique is a total red herring. It’s not what the work is about.’ When asked if the work is supposed to be provocative the artist replied ‘I hope it is — provocative as art, as all work of the avant-garde in its time must have been.’
There is now an opportunity for a re-appraisel of the controversial artist; and it may be about time – Jones is back, and on display at the Royal Academy of Arts from 13 November until 25 January 2015.