Everything You Need To Say About The Man Behind The Supposed Most Sexist Sculptures Ever

Ahead of his new exhibition that includes his controversial sculptures, here's what you need to know about Allen Jones


by Dean Kissick |
Published on

Who’s this?

Allen Jones, a 77-year-old British Pop Artist from Southampton, who found fame and notoriety in 1970 when he exhibited three sculptures that reimagined women as pieces of furniture. These artworks, titled Chair, Hat Stand and Table, were composed of shop window mannequins and black leather fetish-wear.


Basically, he’s an S&M-obsessed granddad, and has been much criticised over the years for how these sculptures – quite literally – objectify women, transforming them into perverse household furnishings. However he’s also become part of the cultural establishment: he hung out with the Beatles and Johnny Rotten in the 70s, and he’s still a good mate of David Hockney. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1986, and has a massive solo show opening at the Royal Academy this Thursday.

READ MORE: Sculpture Unveiled Of The Madonna That Smells Of Vagina. On Purpose. No, Really.

So what’s happened to these works?

Well, the Royal Academy should probably hire some extra security because when a set of this sexist furniture was shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1978 it was attacked with stink bombs. And when Chair was shown at the Tate in 1986 it was attacked with paint-stripper, melting off its mannequin’s face (as if she hadn’t been through enough already).


However, the pieces have been highly sought after by collectors, including celebrities such as Elton John and – more controversially – Roman Polanski. A couple years ago a complete set sold for £2.6 million at auction.

At the beginning of this year, Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard exhibited his own version of Chair, only with a black woman rather than a white one, and in a rather ill-advised photo opportunity – as you may well recall – Russian billionaire art collector Dasha Zhukova was snapped sitting on it. The photographs appeared online on Martin Luther King Day and, well, let’s just say they weren’t particularly well received.

What else has Allen Jones done recently?

In 1978 he sculpted a naked bodysuit in golden glitter, and then last year he had Kate Moss photographed in it for the cover of POP.


So what does he have to say about everything?

‘As an artist, I have a responsibility to art. As a human being, I have a responsibility to society,’ Allen explained recently. ‘I was brought up a socialist and I think of myself as a feminist and I don’t need to defend my political stance.’

However no-one appears very convinced by his claims that he’s a feminist, and he has also admitted that while making the works in 1969 he was highly aroused by the atmosphere of Swinging London: ‘I was living in Chelsea and I had an interest in the female figure and the sexual charge that comes from it. Every Saturday on the King’s Road you saw that skirts were shorter, the body was being displayed in some new way.’

What have others said?

In a very famous essay in 1972, written soon after the sculptures first surfaced, art historian Laura Mulvey hypothesised that Allen’s constructions were strange fetishes reflecting his unconscious fear of castration. Why not?

What should we think?

Well, it’s tricky to place Chair, Hat Stand and Table in these post-Miley times. Really are they any worse than this week’s images of Kim Kardashian balancing a glass of Champagne on her sparkly, black-clad bottom for the cover of Paper? After all, in both cases bums are used as tables.

Also, in the intervening years, artists such as the Chapman brothers have certainly done far, far more shocking things with mannequins.

READ MORE: This Photo Of Kim Kardashian’s Bum Has Broken The Internet

These sculptures are inspired by the sexual practice of forniphilia, a form of bondage which turns people into living furniture – just look at this bookcase made of men – and while it’s still unsettling, sexual fetishism is not the same as misogyny.


And art is supposed to challenge us, it’s supposed to shock, and while it may be unpleasant, it certainly shouldn’t be censored. Which is not to suggest that you visit the Royal Academy show – and I’d certainly think twice about taking a trip to Ikea with Allen Jones – but really it’s up to you.

You can see Allen Jones’ sculptures at the exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy of Arts from November 13 - January 25

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Follow Dean on Twitter @DeanKissick

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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