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VM inspiration: Allen Jones exhibition

Few artists can have attracted more adverse publicity than Allen Jones (b.1937) when he exhibited his ‘furniture sculpture’ in 1970, sparking protests with his depiction of scantily-clad female mannequins as pieces of furniture. The Guardian suggested his work, which draws on BDSM and rubber fetishism, be removed, and when shown at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts it was attacked with stink bombs.

As the current exhibition at the Royal Academy reveals, after these pieces were created and Allen refused to lend them without a fee to Stanley Kubrick for a scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ he seems to have deliberately retreated from scandal. Instead we find a world of brightly-coloured 1970s fashion illustration canvases with a tropical touch and representational metal sculpture, perhaps borrowing a little from Alexander Calder’s monumental abstract work.

These small figures with a stylized, yet recognizably female, form manifest Allen’s continued interest in an idealised female aesthetic. There are probably millions of images on the internet of yoga practitioners mastering this same pose.

This plasticised ideal is now something that today’s women themselves experiment and play with (see Beyonce, Madonna, etc), or read merely as a marketing graphic, as in the case of the excessively high heels, which have to some extent lost their fetish association. All very Christian Louboutin and not uncommon on London’s fashionable streets. And today, textile technology is certainly able to create the illusion that a skirt could be both opaque and transparent.

More interestingly from a VM viewpoint, I liked the illusion of perspective created by three adjacent canvases, each with a painted column on the right side. The reducing scale of the canvases contributes to the illusion of depth and would be a perfect means of adding depth to a shallow, closed-back window. It would also allow it to divided in terms of merchandise, irrespective of the subject of the canvas/backdrop.

The tropical Florida-colour palette combined with the sketch-book composition would lend itself to any Spring/holiday window, perhaps with the omission of the red dunces caps and the green fancy-dress outfit. But even this last has a surreal touch which would be perfectly acceptable in today’s premium VM.

More contemporary work includes images of Kate Moss in a copper-flecked corset and a canvas portrait of ballet dancer, Darcy Bussell. I was fascinated by the leather jumpsuits worn by the mannequins. Not only was the workmanship excellent, but the heeled-shoe as part of the leg is something that we have seen as a recent trend in mannequins: see Peter Jones and Oasis mannequins for something similar.

The quality of the craftsmanship would please Hermes.

Lastly, a large-scale work outside the RA building indicates the participative nature of Jones’ current work, with outdoor metal sculpture that can be walked through and touched. The hollow cut-out reminds me very much of Magritte’s work. Do take a look.