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The Buck Stopped Here: Too much nostalgia on Sir Norman’s watch

There was considerable disappointment among the packed crowd at last night’s conversation (20 January) between the artist Allen Jones and Norman Rosenthal at London's Marlborough Gallery, when Sir Norman spent so much time discussing the earliest years of Jones's career and ruminating on his own personal responses to the artist’s work that there was virtually no time to cover Jones's most recent “sexy abstracts” (as Rosenthal dubbed them), which were on show downstairs—or indeed to take any questions from the audience.

This was especially frustrating given the fact that 78-year-old Jones was happy to answer whatever he was asked, despite suffering from a sore throat. At the show's press view before Christmas, and in an earlier radio interview, he had given an illuminating account of the evolution of these provocative new female forms in mixed media, including perspex, painted steel, fibreglass and—in a trio of the most recent pieces—high-heeled shoes and a spangly green bikini. Jones said in those interviews that his main motivation for the works, in keeping with the show’s title (Colour Matters, until 23 January), was “to liberate colour and make a formal statement”.

A discussion of the sexually provocative nature of the work was also sadly lacking last night, although we did learn that one of the Chair pieces from Jones's famous trio of 1969 furniture sculptures—a seat strapped to a topless woman wearing knee-high boots and reclining on a furry rug—was once owned by the notorious film director Roman Polanski. But I, for one, would have liked the artist to expand on his recent statement that “the idea of being provocative as a conscious thing has never occurred to me. The thing that does occur to me is to be provocative with one’s own art, and that means trying to extend the language of what is possible within one’s own medium. Offending art is one thing; I’m not interested in offending people.”  

One nugget that did emerge was the fact that Jones would very much like to see his standing sculptures installed along the length of the British Museum’s Egyptian galleries—a dream that could not be realised while the artist was a trustee of the museum (between 1990 and 1999). “But," he asked, "who knows what the new director will do?” Over to you, Hartwig Fischer… and at the same time, please could you organise a more audience-friendly conversation with your former trustee?