Some observations about the table:
1.With the care normally accorded to Works of Art, the table should last a lifetime-and more.
2.The sculpture is built to withstand the inevitable urge to use her as a table, but do not abuse this privilege with the use of very heavy objects.
3.She is painted with Rowney Cryla Colour and made of fibre-glass. A soft damp cloth may be used to wipe the figure, if necessary.
4.Her clothing has been custom made and is not strengthened in the normal manner for human usage.
5.The real-hair wig has been set and kiln dried. When the wig is removed from the box, brush out in the normal manner.
6. Reverse selo-tape is recommended for fixing the wig to the skull.
7. A key has been provided for screwing the glass onto the figure. Do not screw too tightly as refraction of light through the glass gives the impression of paint loss. (Allen Jones 1969).
‘Paintings were becoming more visually hard and precise that... it did occur to me that maybe the paint surface was redundant...’ (A. Jones, quoted in M. Livingstone, Sheer Magic by Allen Jones, exh. cat., Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 1979, p. 48).
‘It was about offending the canons of art, not about offending individuals. I thought the whole process of Pop Art lay in a return to representing the figure without the baggage of fine art - so that people would have to make up their own minds what they were looking at. It was the familiarity of the Pop Art image that democratised the way people look at art’ (A. Jones, quoted in A. Lambirth, Allen Jones: Works, London 2005 pp. 24-28).
Allen Jones’s Table of 1969, the first to have been executed by the artist, is a gleefully subversive sculpture carried out at the height of the British artist’s career; it is quite simply an icon of Pop. An exaggerated figure of femininity, Jones has contorted his model into a subservient posture, her outstretched palms, steadied back and sturdy thighs providing purposefully provocative and sensational household furniture. Master of irony, Jones illuminates the undercurrent that runs through commercial advertising: the comic books, beauty queens and Playboy bunnies that suggest ‘sex sells’. In Table, the lithe serpentines of the female body recall the cinched waists and buxom busts of contemporary female icons such as Marilyn Monroe. With her tousled coif, doe eyes shrouded in thick false lashes and long leather boots, she might at first glance be mistaken for a real, living person. Upon closer inspection, her improbable features show her to be pure fantasy, first modelled in clay by the artist and later cast in fibreglass, coated in acrylic paint and clad with accessories. A soft, white, shag pile rug forms the resting ground for this bridled femme fatale. Jones grew out of the wave of Pop Art that was growing across Britain and the United States during the ‘swinging sixties’. The 1960s was a period of sexual liberation with artists adopting images, not only of mass produced commercial goods, but of pop culture’s female icons. Just as Tom Wesselmann celebrated the Great American Nude, Warhol his heroines (Marilyn, Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor), Mel Ramos his sun-drenched California Venus, so Jones created his own unique comment on the iconography of women and a new Post-War generation’s material desires. Table is as sensational today as it ever has been, courting controversy and delight in equal measure.
The 1960s was a decade of radical change on both sides of the Atlantic, attitudes dramatically evolving towards sexuality and gender. These themes emerged as a new axis around which social movements could be mobilised. In Britain, the decade began with the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s erotic, highly charged and previously outlawed novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover following the well-documented trial of Penguin Books under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. In America, the new availability of birth control fundamentally changed attitudes towards women’s sexuality and by the end of the decade John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famous Bed-Ins for Peace. What would have been scandalous only a few years before suddenly became mainstream and permissible, providing a new context for Allen Jones’s wry appropriations of the female form. Schooled by Richard Hamilton at the Royal College of Art, Jones was one of a new generation of British artists including David Hockney challenging conventions and embracing their sexuality. Hamilton’s Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, 1956 had already brought the buff imagery of American men’s physique magazines and semi-clad sirens into the domestic realm and this startling step was arguably to inform Jones’s Table and its fellow sculptures, Chair and Hatstand.
Like his contemporary David Hockney, Jones had spent time traveling around the United States in the mid- 60s, living in New York during the height of American Pop. It was here that Jones became bowled over by the range of vivid, often racy imagery in advertising and magazines; so much more bracing and immersive than the more staid ads and illustrations in Britain. Cognisant of his American contemporaries and inspired by the subject matter of Roy Lichtenstein’s Girls and Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nudes, Jones turned to similar sources for his paintings, adopting a bright, brazen, frontal manner akin to his colleagues. Looking to popular imagery, Jones sought to destabilise the banal and kitsch elements of consumer culture, and exhume the tabooed depictions of the body. Contextualising this investigation within Jungian and Freudian philosophy of self-discovery through creativity, these topics would come to inform his oeuvre for the next two decades. Focusing on the ways in which women were depicted and viewed in society, Jones launched an intriguing artistic probe that would later come to wide and controversial attention particularly amongst the contemporary feminist movement with his iconic sculptures, including Table.
Following his trip, Jones returned to his native Great Britain and began to embark on his three sculptures, making a dramatic departure from the painting which had dominated his practice up until that moment. In the late 1960s the artist recalled that his ‘paintings were becoming more visually hard and precise that... it did occur to me that maybe the paint surface was redundant...’ (A. Jones, quoted in M. Livingstone, Sheer Magic by Allen Jones, exh. cat., Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 1979, p. 48). In the late 1960s, Jones began adding shelves and steps to the bottom of his paintings, inviting the viewer to enter the pictorial space and become more closely acquainted with his glossy figures. Suddenly it occurred to Jones that through a sculptural practice, he could invite his women to walk out of the canvas and into his own real, lived space. Using a commercial sculptor for shop window mannequins and wax works, Jones created his triumvirate of women. Jones had originally intended to clad his first from this group, Hatstand, in ordinary clothes, finding a resonance with Duchamp and the surreal, but later turned to the fantasy costumes of the circus and adult theatre as seen in Table. In doing so, he was trying to free the work from the world of art, giving the semi-clad figure a banal, domestic function and thrusting it, to some fanfare and consternation, into the real world.
Jones’ women had emerged from his paintings, partly as a product of his insistence on using the figure as a basis for his art. He refused to plunge into the abstraction that was cutting such a swathe through the avant garde in the 1960s, instead aligning himself more with Pop Art and the use of the image. However, his use of the image was deliberately bracing - controversial enough to be lent an eye-catching immediacy. His exhibitions of his furniture-sculpture-women gained vast reams of press attention, some of it in favour, and some of it definitely not. In art historical terms, this provocation was in part deliberate, as Jones explained: ‘It was about offending the canons of art, not about offending individuals. I thought the whole process of Pop Art lay in a return to representing the figure without the baggage of fine art - so that people would have to make up their own minds what they were looking at. It was the familiarity of the Pop Art image that democratised the way people look at art’ (A. Jones, quoted in A. Lambirth, Allen Jones: Works, London 2005 pp. 24-28). Jones turned his sculptures into furniture in order to infiltrate the domestic space of the viewer. These are objects that are familiar, and their shocking nature therefore makes them all the more uncanny. There is an ambiguity about Table, as it straddles the worlds of art-for-art’s-sake and furniture, involving the viewer in an ambiguous relationship, questioning gender roles and also the nature of sculpture. Accordingly, Jones was adding a new and bracing chapter to the use of the human figure in design. After all, Table, with the woman supporting a sheet of glass, can be seen as a bracing modern counterpart to the ancient caryatid. Be it on the Acropolis, in African tribal stools taking the form of the human figure, the sculptures of Adam and Eve on either side of Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell or indeed in the works of Amedeo Modigliani, the caryatid has long been used as a means of adding decorative interest to a structure. It is only fitting that Jones, creating his own Pop caryatid, has probed the assumptions that lie behind that use of the human figure, especially the female form. By creating Table, the caryatid is transformed into an investigation of submission and subversion. Jones’ own ambivalence is reflected in the fact that the glass can be removed from Table and the sculpture of the woman placed seated on a chair - with her hands outstretched before her. In this way, she moves from prone to protest, adding another dimension to the work.