Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Allen Jones at The Royal Academy

Leave half an hour extra: it's not in the main part of the RA. You have to walk round the back via the ever-crystallising Burlington Arcade which has seen off the funkier little shops and is now pure high end with no compromises. The shoe-shine chappie is there still, though.
This outing was an idea proposed by Caroline Coon, who suggested it because of the controversy surrounding Allan's work. Coincidentally, our visit coincided with the slipping of the Page 3 tit-pictures on to the internet, where all is apparently forgiven, and not forgotten. Gina Birch joined us and we had a humdinger conversation about politics around the coffee-table once we had assembled.

The first room in the exhibition featured the 'sexy' women on all fours with perspex tables bolted on to their backs. Caroline noticed the dust on the tables (really, RA, you can to better than that!). Perhaps they needed women in bondage pinnies with feather dusters to keep them clean.
I must mention that to the Piccadilly Jobcentre so they can create a doubly-humiliating zero-hours job for some poor young woman to do.
The sculptures actually looked cheap: not 'cheap', but cheap. Time has not been kind to either the sculptures themselves, nor the ideas behind them.
There was a small room that housed a lot of sketches and 3-D card models that were rather nice. The models were of couples together (later, we saw the full size metal sculptures created from these ideas) and were angular and stylish with quite a 1930s look to them.
The largest room was full of colour: wonderful colour, it has to be said, and some wonderful paintings. Away from the pointed and bent Barbie-feet that infested so many of the works, there was a real joie-de-vivre and joie-de-peindre here. I sat in front of Sun Plane (1963) just staring at it. Snuggled amongst the colours were a couple enjoying a mile-high experience; but aside from this, Jones had conquered the coldness and hardness of technology without making it cuddly. The coloured stripes of the plane blended it into the landscape, but the propellers propelled us out of it.
The bus paintings were great too. How odd to make transport technology so jolly, yet make women look so cold and hard!
In the next room the sculptures, also coloured and very Soho, depicted couples and solo men entwined or looking for sex. There was something of the dumb-waiter about them: again, very much a nod to the thirties but in form not in colour. I liked these, but my companions weren't so keen.
The last room was vile.  Jones has become a parody of himself. Here, plasticky women had breasts thrusting upwards to the sky like pigs' heads, their nipples like mini-snouts. Their feet were forced into the shape of pigs' trotters, in a parody of Chinese foot-binding. I'd say the main influence here was Marvel Comics, but without the story.
That's the problem with Allen Jones's work: the story is weak. I love superficial stuff as much as 'deep' stuff (after all, I'm a total pop music fan), but there is no sense of artistic development in the exhibition. It seems as an artist he has worked backwards. The recent work looks dashed-off and the portraits don't even resemble the sitters; in the earlier work there is a wonderful joy in drawing, painting, detail and humour that promised so much more than he has delivered towards the end of his career.
This is, of course, a very opinionated reflection. With my companions we sat in a little Italian restaurant talking about our response. I am so glad we went (thank you for suggesting it, Caroline) because the exhibition allowed us to talk about so many things.
Ultimately cultural traction is the purpose of any exhibition, and despite my gut feelings against so much of Jones's work, this was indeed a very interesting and worthwhile exhibition, despite simultaneously being a disappointing one.

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