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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Allen Jones

Objectifying women, 1969, Allen Jones.
Allen Jones, Self-portrait, 1957
There was a time about forty years ago when lots of people would have been upset with me for featuring the work of British sculptor, Allen Jones. During the late 1960s and 1970s, when the women's movement was in its infancy, Jones' fiberglass furniture utilizing scantily clad female fetish figures were an outrage (probably still considered by some to be so today). Allen Jones was the enemy, seen by irate feminists as a suitable candidate for castration. He had the unmitigated gall to depict women as art objects, reducing them to subservient pieces of furniture in contorted, highly sexualized poses. Ironically, in their blind anger and outrage, it's likely few of the justifiably indignant women at the time considered the fact that male artists had, almost from the beginning of art itself, been "objectifying women." Ever since a prehistoric sculptor carved the Venus of Willendorf from a lump of rock roughly 28,000 years ago, the female figure has been objectified as a fertility goddess, a symbol of eternal feminine perfection (as in Barbie), the virgin "mother of God," a source of erotic stimulation, and in sculpture, the personification of great physical beauty. How dare some impudent British misogynist "pig" turn women into pieces of furniture!
Allen Jones' work as seen by British cartoonist, Stanley Arthur Franklin, 1970.
Life Class, 1968, Allen Jones, the
last step before merging the
woman with the furniture.
Perhaps there is a deeper irony in the work of Allen Jones. Though probably not obvious at the time, Jones' female tables, chairs, coat racks, and, yes, even refrigerators, may have, in fact, done the feminist movements a favor. At that point in time (1969), women were looked upon differently than they are today. They had very narrowly defined roles--wives, mothers, sexual partners, and homemakers. Outside the home, they were prostitutes, waitresses, secretaries, nurses, and (mostly elementary) school teachers. Objectifying women was so taken for granted that most men, and even many women, barely gave it any thought. Jones' female furniture, however, was so outrageously "over the top" it came to symbolize the very concept of female objectification, providing a mountaintop lightning rod at which women in England, and eventually the world over, could aim their bolts of righteous wrath. Jones and his female furniture became the very definition of female objectification.
Secretary, 1972, Allen Jones
I suppose, if you want to talk about irony, it's likely the ultimate irony in all of this is that the anger and outrage aimed a Allen Jones and his erotic furniture by the women who hated him so, were the same ones who, inadvertently, made the sculptor and his work world famous...not to mention quite wealthy. Three pieces of Jones' most iconic furniture recently brought $3,392,707 at Christies in London. Interestingly, at the height of his controversial career, Jones' work also became a symbol for the male sexual culture of the time. The U.S. film maker, Stanley Kubrick, is said to have called Jones in London and offered him the "opportunity" to design furniture and sets for his upcoming film, A Clockwork Orange, at no salary, simply for the free advertising such exposure would bring. Jones hung up on him. Kubrick, in response, paid his own set designer to imitate Jones work for his film. However, Jones was later paid to create a black latex waitress costume (below) for the movie, designed, shall we say, not to discomfort the ladies when they sat down. Strangely enough, the imitation Jones furnishings used in the film are often falsely credited to the artist. However, they were, in fact, far more sexually explicit than anything Jones ever designed.
Jones' waitress costume for Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, 1971
Maitresse, Jones' 1976 movie design.
Born in Southampton in 1937, later trained (and expelled) from some of the best art schools London had to offer, Allen Jones was, in every way, as personally objectionable as his female detractors painted him. Moreover, just as the feminist movement worldwide grew, succeeded, matured, and moved on to more important issues of gender discrimination, so too did its public enemy number one. Kubrick (below) was "small potatoes." Jones went on to "design" an entire feature- length movie, Maitresse (left), a sado-masochistic French film, directed by Barbet Schroeder, that was so far ahead of the cultural curve at the time (1976) it was unable to obtain certification for public exhibition until 1981 and even then only after some five minutes of the most objectionable scenes were removed.

Stanley Kubrick's imitation Jones tables in A Clockwork Orange--verging on the obscene.

Eyes Front, 2009, Allen Jones
Think Pink, 2011, Allen Jones
Today, Jones' 1969 Chair (top) can be found in London's Tate Gallery. One of his sculptures, City Shadow I (below), stands on a street corner in Hong Kong (protected by heavy security). Though still highly sexualized, Jones' work is no longer met with the controversy seen forty years ago. In much of the world, contemporary culture has caught up with, often surpassed in fetish sexuality, even his most obnoxious efforts. His Eyes Front (above, left), from 2009, and Think Pink (above, right), from 2011, both seem pretty tame by today's standards. Actually, the same could be said about virtually all of Jones' work. In fact, for better or worse, his sculptures might well be said to have had an impact upon the sexual and artistic culture of the time, contributing to its evolution into the more tolerant, less judgmental one we know today.

City Shadow I, Allen Jones, Hong Kong.



  1. Fantastic blog Jim!

    I have been very keen on AJ since the Sixties and am currently covering his prints on

    Regards and Happy New Year.

    1. David--
      Thanks for the link. It would appear that Jones' prints are but a pale shadow of his sculptural efforts.