A major retrospective of the work of Allen Jones is opening at the Royal Academy. This is one of three major exhibitions they have running simultaneously; quite an achievement, and quite a study in contrasts, Allen Jones, Anselm Keifer and Giovanni Moroni.
Since exhibiting his famous sculptures of women in fetish gear serving as tables, chairs and hatstands, Jones has been mired in controversy that he claims never to have expected or sought (really?). As a result this is the first major exhibition of his work in the UK for many years. It is a major retrospective including a large body of paintings which are much less well known that the fetishistic sculptures. There are also some more interesting sculptural forms cut out of sheets of steel which represent almost a half way house between painting and sculpture.
I visited the exhibition today. The image above summarises the view I formed as I went round the exhibition. Does any more need to be said?
A few things perhaps. Firstly, my comment about frozen in time represents the rather extraordinary extent to which Jones’s work is unchanged by the passage of time. You could transpose the dates, on his paintings in particular, from one decade to the next and I would challenge anyone other than the closest observer of his work to notice the difference. Perhaps this demonstrates a singular commitment to an artistic vision; it certainly demonstrates a remarkable confidence in what he is doing.
Secondly, the decision by some to excommunicate Jones and define his work as beyond the feminist pale had exactly the effect that might have been predicted. It gave the work a sense of danger and allure that it would otherwise have not achieved. It might have been shocking once, but certainly no more. It might have seemed erotic once, but I rather doubt it. It is ultimately rather cold and sterile and struggles to withstand scrutiny on an exhibition of this scale.
Thirdly, the last room in the exhibition is full of Jones’s drawings. It is a revelation. This man is a craftsman. He can draw exquisitely. He can render images so three dimensional that you could almost stroke them. What a pity that when these drawings are scaled up to large scale pictures they are rendered flat and almost deliberately two dimensional.