The British Pop artist Allen Jones who caused an international furor in 1969 with his provocative furniture sculptures is mounting a retrospective exhibition at the Kunsthalle Tübingen in Germany .The last large-scale retrospective devoted to the artist, was held in 1979 when he was forty-one, in Liverpool, London, Baden-Baden, and Bielefeld. His 70th birthday was celebrated in 2007 at the Tate Britain in London with an exhibition of current works as well as several early pieces. In time for his 75th birthday, the Kunsthalle Tübingen is extending an invitation to rediscover the oeuvre of the internationally influential artist in the most comprehensive retrospective to date.
The notorious sculptures from 1969, which depict women transformed into pieces of furniture, will also be shown in the most comprehensive Allen Jones retrospective to date: one with outstretched hands that serves as a hat stand, a table consisting of a woman posing as an obedient dog would do, a woman lying on her back with the back of her thighs pressed against her body and her lower legs aloft serves as a chair—they are all buxom, bare-breasted, have long legs, and are armored with stilettos and leather accessories. The sculptures seem realistic despite the erotic exaggeration; apparently so much so that they are still, as they were then, in a position not only to bring sworn enemies of pornography onto the scene but also the heralds of sexual self-expression. 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.
“Nothing is as it seems”—this is now Allen Jones once described the guiding principle behind his creative work, and thus it would be a fatal error to confuse the depicted content with the message of the work of art. It is fiberglass and steel forced into the shape of furniture—and not people! For the artist, it is not about contempt for women but questioning restrictions on free thought and moral barriers. In his choice of the colloquial expression “off the wall” for the title of the exhibition catalogue, which means eccentric or unconventional, Jones transports trivial themes such as sexual allusions from advertising and show business into the visual arts in order to stylize and satirize them. Yet “off the wall” is also to be understood in a literal sense: away from two-dimensional representation, off the wall and out into the world!
He departed from the panel picture for the first time with the formed canvases of his bus paintings from 1962. With his sadomasochistic sculptures from 1969 he crossed the threshold from the visual to the haptic in order to again approach the painting, for example with a female figure he has step out of an abstract composition in 1991/92, or sculptures resembling cut-out and folded pictorial motifs. Jones uses this spatial-pictorial ambivalence to interpret the grand theme of Pop Art: the transgression of the barrier between art and everyday life. Yet in the process, he never succumbs to the false conclusion of being able to tear down the boundaries between these two spheres. Rather, he defends the autonomy of the aesthetic by, for example, having figuration encounter abstraction, by symbolically overdrawing body forms or by, two years before Georg Baselitz, placing motifs upside down. Thus, his oeuvre points beyond the democraticizing Pop Art impulse and seduces us with sensual physicalness into the spheres of art-theoretical reflection.
In 1979, the first large-scale retrospective was devoted to the artist, forty-one at the time, in Liverpool, London, Baden-Baden, and Bielefeld. His 70th birthday was celebrated in 2007 at the Tate Britain in London with an exhibition of current works as well as several early pieces. Just in time for his 75th birthday, the exhibition at the Kunsthalle Tübingen is joining a large selection of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper created between 1957 to 2009 for the first time. This most comprehensive retrospective to date, developed in collaboration with Tübingen’s Institute for Cultural Exchange, invites viewers to rediscover the oeuvre of the internationally influential English artist.
The Kunsthalle Tübingen has a tradition of presenting large-scale exhibitions of Pop Art, having mounted solo shows of works by George Segal, Richard Hamilton, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Duane Hanson, Tom Wesselmann, and Mel Ramos. With Allen Jones, another pearl is being added to the string.
Alan Jones June 16–September 16, 2012 Kunsthalle Tübingen
Philosophenweg 76 72076 Tübingen Germany