LUCY SCOVELL reviews Allen Jones’ Exhibition at the Royal Academy.
On a bloggers’ evening at the Royal Academy, I made a beeline for the Allen Jones exhibition to satisfy my curiosity and for a Friday night culture fix. The exhibition is a survey of Jones’ work from the last 50 years and is, in a few words, an astonishing feat. Whether or not you appreciate pop art, the collection is provocative, disturbing and definitely worth a visit. The curator has abandoned a chronological approach, preferring instead to exhibit the works thematically. ‘What emerges is a visual language fusing painterly tradition with the iconography of city life, theatre and advertising’.
Allen Jones is one of the UK’s most renowned Pop artists. Drawing inspiration from a post-war London in which everything seemed possible, his array of paintings, sculptures and drawings from the last five decades depict life, sexuality and sensual experience in an erotically charged but undeniably fetishistic manner. Walking around the various rooms comprised of the exhibition space, I was struck by the plethora of naked women, stiletto heels and cocktail glasses – this is an artist who unashamedly sourced inspiration from a city in revival, which welcomed anything and everything after years of struggle and hardship.
With a heavy focus on the sublimity of the female form, any modern woman may feel intimated by the beautifully toned thighs, stomachs and perfect breasts that punctuate the horizon. Yet rather than being shocked, I felt entranced. A desire to understand the inner thoughts of this talented but expressionistic artist led me to interrogate the meaning that lay within his fibre-glass sculptures. This, of course, culminated in a desire to dissect the status of the erotic trio, Hat Stand Table and Chair. Hat Stand, 1969, is one of his most famous works on display, and it stands amongst a chorus line of other scantily clad sculpted woman, as though, wearing thigh high corseted purple stiletto boots was the norm for such a household object. While these sculptures are examples of forniphilia, a form of sexual bondage in which the female body is incorporated into items of furniture, any notion of perversity is shunned by the bathetic ideal that we should all own such items.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Jones’s process, for the exhibition also contains a large number of his storyboards and preparatory drawings. The final room is filled with sketches, predominantly owned by private collectors, which illustrate his talent for capturing the female form. While the drawings of Darcey Bussell captured my attention, for the Royal Ballet’s ex-prima ballerina in her very being epitomises the notion of grace and beauty, an untitled sketch completed in 1982 is also of exceptional quality. The viewer is engaged by the endless curves of the female body, fusing into one another and producing a seamless composition of limbs and heads.
With little previous knowledge of Jones’s work I was taken aback to say the least, but what shines through is his individuality as an artist. Jones made no attempt to shrug off the label of Pop Artist in the 1960s, and his work positively indulges the genre. If I have any criticism at all it would be the publicity advertising the exhibition, for the iconic photograph of Kate Moss wearing a gold figure-hugging sheath is the only photograph in the entire exhibition. The image of Kate Moss is provocative, but it also suggests that Jones is a fashion photographer, while sculpture and painting actually dominate the exhibition.
Although pop art is not exactly my cup of tea, I cannot deny that the exhibition is thought provoking and evocative. The range of media and dominating canvases has something for everyone and I urge everyone to go. The exhibition is open until the 25th January 2015, click HERE for more detail.