Objectified: Allen Jones Furniture





Allen Jones: Hatstand
Executed in 1969, this work is from an edition of 6

This work was part of the Gunter Sachs collection; it was auctioned off at Sotheby's in London on May 22nd 2012 for 780,450.00 GBP (almost 20 times the high estimate; it had a presale estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 GBP).


A conversation piece for the living room, no question about it.
By the mid-1960s Allen Jones had cemented his position as one of British Pop Art's most radical and innovative painters. Like his fellow graduates from the Royal Academy in 1961, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, Allen Jones' work was highly celebrated for its idiosyncratic investigation into the nature of painting using everyday subjects drawn from his private existence. What interested him about painting and the practice of making art was exploring the balance between observed reality and the process of thought - viewing the visual and the conceptual as interrelated rather than opposite forces. This duality led him to focus simultaneously upon the technique of his painting as well as the theory supporting it - particularly the writings of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and their examination of the self through creativity. He recorded his dreams in an effort to better understand his unconscious thought and filled sketchbooks and diaries with hundreds of automated drawings - rapid thumbnail scribbles created without thought to provide a visible indicator of the unconscious. He used these doodles to pick out certain shapes and motifs that he felt were somehow endowed with a particular thrust or relevance, and explored them further to develop and shape his pictorial ideas of subject and composition. 


Allen Jones: Chair
Executed in 1969, this work is from an edition of 6

This work was part of the Gunter Sachs collection; it was auctioned off at Sotheby's in London on May 22nd 2012 for 836,450.00 GBP (more than 20 times the high estimate; it had a presale estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 GBP).

It was against this backdrop of self-examination, searching deep within his inner consciousness, that Allen Jones began in the early 1960s the exploration of male identity that has fuelled his art ever since. These investigations reached their mature apotheosis in the ground-breaking furniture sculptures that the artist created in 1969 – immediately iconic objects that saw Jones transferring the psychological intensity of his paintings into existence as three-dimensional objects. "In the late 60's," recalls the artist, "I was adding shelves and steps to the bottom of my paintings, inviting the viewer to enter the picture space. It then occurred to me that the reverse might be the case, and that I had wanted the figure to come down the steps into my space, to become real." The 'furniture' sculptures were a breakthrough. They enabled Allen Jones' art to confront head-on the concept of illusion that he had been exploring in his paintings up to this point. Occupying the same space as the viewer and providing a compelling physical presence, his intention was to force the viewer to size-up against the sculptures in the same way that one acknowledges a real human presence. "My furniture sculptures were meant to challenge the canons of what sculpture could be, not what people were," explained the artist. Allen Jones' inspiration for the Hatstand, Chair and Table came in the form of images depicting women in magazines and mail-order catalogues. This "popular" material existed outside the realms of fine art, and provided a dramatic contrast to the traditional figure studies that had been taught in life-classes at art school. The wealth of source material Jones gleaned from the mass-media enabled to confront with unforeseen explicitness the psychological themes of identity and sexuality that had formed the basis of his art. The first sculpture he devised was the standing Hatstand figure with her arms raised in welcome. To create it he commissioned a commercial waxworks and manikins sculptor who turned his sketches into a life-size clay figure that was then cast in fibreglass. He had originally intended to dress it in contemporary urban clothes although doing this gave the sculpture connotations of a Surrealist found object. So instead he turned to the circus and adult theatre for ideas and designed garments that existed outside of everyday wear. The wigs and clothing were influenced by fetish magazines and gave evidence to theories of the human psyche's inherently bisexual nature that Jones had been looking at from early in his career. They also fulfilled a valuable function in continuing his emphasis on surface and texture, enhancing the viewer's immediate physical and emotional response to the sculptures. "The resulting sculpture still seemed anchored in the world of art and I chose to further dislocate the viewer's expectation by giving the sculptures a function. The subsequent pieces were made to look like a Table and Chair," explained the artist. 


 
Allen Jones: Table
Executed in 1969, this work is from an edition of 6

This work was part of the Gunter Sachs collection; it was auctioned off at Sotheby's in London on May 22nd 2012 for 970,850.00 GBP (almost 25 times the high estimate; it had a presale estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 GBP).

The British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes was a close friend and made the clothing according to Jones' designs. The yellow pants for the Table presented a problem and so Zandra took measurements from the sculpture and designed them for a custom fit. The leatherwork was commissioned from John Sutcliffe at Atomage who had made the costumes for Emma Peal in 'The Avengers' whilst the boots were created by Anello & Davide, leading specialists in theatrical footwear. These sculptures in real clothes purporting as utilitarian objects represented for Allen Jones the complete synthesis of meaning and form. Unlike the artist's paintings where the male and female figures were typically represented as floating and flying through space, here the women were rooted to the ground, subject to the same laws of physics and environment as the viewer. The balance between the illusion inherent to art and the suggestion of reality here found its most ambiguous and radical manifestation. It was also the first time he had shown the full figure rather than fragments of the body, heightening the human orientation to the work and establishing a direct link between the viewer, the object and the artist. Although each figure was presented in assertively individual poses and clothing, the artist's intention with the furniture sculptures was to break beyond the limitations of the particular and into the realm of the universal. He sought to establish a credible identity for the type rather than creating unique personalities for each of the women. And there is an inherent and intentional irony in the way he subtly masks their distorted proportions by adhering in such detail to what seems to be their natural appearances. "Here the artist manipulates the viewer's expectations to throw him off guard. One might think, for instance, that because the clothing is real the proportions of the figures correspond to those of ordinary women. This is not the case; the clothes have all been specially made to fit the sculpted figures, and the anatomy of these figures has been deliberately distorted to emphasize sexually desirable areas such as the breasts and the buttocks. These figures are not counterfeits of reality but exaggerations of the truth. The simulated flesh tone, the false eyelashes and wig, seem real enough to cause momentary confusion. The viewer then experiences a flash of recognition as it becomes apparent that this beauty is clearly artificial; that the artist has greatly distorted normal female proportions; that the aesthetic context of a work of art is generated by its own construction and not by its allegiance to perceived reality."


For Jones the figures' anatomical distortions were a means of stressing the subjectivity of the artist's role and underlining that the goal of figurative art lies beyond mere imitation of surface appearance. The consequence is that our gaze as the viewer is not distributed evenly over the whole body. Rather it focuses upon the areas of the anatomy that are of particular prominence and erotic interest. It would be wrong to interpret the furniture's sexual overtones as an appeal to lust. The statuesque stylisation of the furniture and their emotionless anonymity ensure that the any erotic response from the viewer is decidedly short-lived. Instead eroticism for Jones was a way of capturing the viewer's primal visual attention before taking it over by intellectual concerns. He uses it to initiate a chain reaction in which immediate physical response is succeeded by a more balanced and intellectual assessment of the artist's role and aesthetic intentions.

Allen Jones' 'furniture' sculptures have become iconic within the canon of Pop art. Created during the peak of creative and cultural optimism that sprang from London during the 1960s, today these seminal works challenge the same artistic boundaries as when they were first created, forcing the viewer to assess the extent to which their own ideas of sexuality and eroticism are shaped by principles of appearance and social conformity. 

Credits: Sotheby's, Lucia Fontana for moderndesign.org