The Fetishistic Furniture Sculpture of British Pop Artist Allen Jones

With the fetish film of 50 Shades of Gray, being released this weekend, it is a good time to highlight British artist and sculptor Allen Jones, the way out furniture and its bewildering prices. Critics have said that Jones’ work is famous is because it is often labeled as morally repugnant as it seems to objectify women. But Jones argues that female sculptures are artworks first – they just happen to represent women.

Many other have admired this pop artist’s work. In fact the art market was seemingly bowled off last year when Sotheby’s sold three of Jones’s fetish style furniture sculptures (Hat Stand, Table, and Chair). The pieces were created in 1969 and first exhibited in 1970. Sotheby’s originally, estimated the sale price to go for $138,500 to $184,750. But they actually sold for a surprising $3.39 million. The three Sixties pieces came from the late millionaire Gunter Sachs. Allen made reproductions of his three sculptures in editions of six. So that Christie’s had another set of Jones’ three fetish sculptures, for sale a mere month later which fetched $4,279,245.

The three sculptures all of women were artistically transformed into items of furniture, constructed in painted fiber glass, resin, mixed media, glass, Plexiglas and tailor-made accessories They are each dressed with wigs, and are naked apart from their corsets, gloves and leather boots. Each is slightly larger than life-size and therefore, not life casts as some have assumed.

Jones grew out of the wave of Pop art that was growing across Britain and the United States during the ‘Swinging Sixties.’ Schooled by Richard Hamilton at the Royal College of Art, he was one of a new generation of British artists including David Hockney challenging conventions and embracing their sexuality.

Though Jones was a painter earlier in his long career, he felt unable to adequately recreate womanly curves on a flat canvas, so he turned to sculpture, using non-traditional materials. At the time of his 70th birthday Jones gave an explanation of his motives for creating the sculptures:

The sculptures were exhibited in 1970 and met with an outcry from feminists, who objected to women being made into items of furniture. The Guardian newspaper suggested the works should be banned from exhibition. Spare Rib magazine suggested the sculptures showed that Jones was terrified of women.

According to art historian and curator, Marco Livingstone, writing in 2004:

“More than three decades later, these works still carry a powerful emotive charge, ensnaring every viewer’s psychology and sexual outlook regardless of age, gender or experience. But a few moments of reflection should make it obvious that these works are manifestations of fantasy and the imagination, and that they poke fun at male expectations.”

Jones was born in Southampton in 1937. From the years 1955 to 1961 studied at Hornsy College of Art. In 1960 he was expelled from the Royal College of Art. Then in 1961 to 1963 Jones taught at Croydon College of Art. Jones’ exhibition of erotic sculptures studies are known as forniphilia, which turn women into items of human furniture. The release 50 Shades of Gray is causing many to look back at Jones’ early works, some 50 year ago, with his beautiful fantasy sculptures of fetishism and BDSM, ever so simply titled the “Hat Stand, Table and Chair.

Kinetic Sculpture, a Special Art Form

Whereas, a sculptor can be defined as an artist working in a stationary three-dimensional form, a kinetic sculptor is a bit more complex to define. Certainly his/her art form is about movement as kinetic implies, but it is also about a strong artistic sensibility, an inventor’s mind, mad engineering skills and an insatiable curiosity. Kinetic sculpture or art, are terms that refer to three-dimensional sculptures and figures such as mobiles, that move naturally or are machine operated. The movement of the art piece is powered by wind, motor-driven, electronic image changing, or moved by the observer.

Many large kinetic pieces are moved by the slightest breeze. The moving air is the energy that creates ever-changing sculpture pieces. Yet the art doesn’t need movement by wind to be considered a kinetic sculpture. It can be designed to emanate sounds such as the Singing, Ringing Tree, a sculpture designed of hollow metal tubes laid horizontally on top of each other to resemble a tree. The piece is set in the landscape of the Pennine hill range overlooking Burnley in Lancashire, England.

Most often kinetic sculptures are built on a fixed base as are the enormous pieces created by Anthony Howe of Eastsound, Washington, whose intricate towering structures dance in the wind on a stationary base, shape changing as they perform. Howe works with specialized software to first mockup each piece digitally before fabricating the individual components from metal. The motion of his sculpture is generated completely by the wind, with even the slightest breeze setting the dozens of rotating components in action.

While a majority of kinetic sculptures are wind-driven, a number of fascinating kinetic art pieces are electrically powered with a variety of motors. The piece entitled Kinetic Rain located in the Singapore airport is one such example. Touted as the world’s largest kinetic sculpture it, the moving sculpture was installed in early July 2012 spans an area of 75 square meters (810 sf) and a height of 7.3 meters (24 ft.). It is composed of two parts, each consisting of 608 rain droplets made of lightweight aluminum covered with copper. Suspended from thin steel ropes above the two opposing escalators, each droplet is moved precisely and seemingly floating by a computer-controlled motor hidden in the halls ceiling. The drops follow a fifteen minute, computationally designed choreography where the two parts move together in unison, sometimes mirroring, sometimes complementing, and sometimes responding to each other.

Reuben Margolin, creates techno-kinetic wave sculptures. Margolin, based in the Bay area of California, he uses everything from wood to cardboard to found and salvaged objects. His kinetic sculptures are extremely diverse ranging from small to giant size, motorized to hand-cranked. Focusing on natural elements like a discrete water droplet or a powerful ocean eddy, his work is elegant and hypnotic. His sculptures are designed to move around from a fixed base.

However, there are a few kinetic artists who are notable for kinetic sculptures that are not tied to a fixed location. Theo Jansen’s is one. His bizarre sculptures are ambulatory. Powered by wind-flled sails, his sculptures look like weird alien beings dropped in from another planet while walking across the ground on numerous articulated insect-like legs. Jansen builds his complicated ‘strandbeests’ from yellow plastic tubing that is readily available in his native Holland.

Kinetic art is never boring as it is constantly changing shape. Most agree that its movements are fascinating, hypnotic and attention grabbing. When created by master artists such as the ones described here they deserved the term “artistic wonders” for its synergistic ability to combine fine art and mechanics to create and altogether unique class of art.

Ed McCormick was past Managing Editor of the ArtMolds Journal – “the artists’ magazine,” as well author and editor of over twenty art books and instructional videos. He is also an accomplished artist, and since 1998, CEO of EnvironMolds, LLC, manufacturer of art supplies to the art industry He serves as co-founder and director of the artist guild, Association of Lifecasters International (ALI) with over 2,000 members world-wide.

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