Would a Miami porn baron hang an Allen Jones painting in his sex dungeon?

First Step by Allen Jones

Royal Academy
★★☆☆☆

If tragedy plus time equals comedy, what does sexism plus time equal – satire? Mainstream acceptability? This has been the strange fate of Allen Jones, an artist whose work once prompted the hurling of smoke bombs outside the ICA, but who now gets a genteel Royal Academy retrospective without even a hint of a Vagenda blogpost.

Perhaps the notorious “furniture” works – a hatstand, table and chair made from busty mannequins in fetish gear – have got less sexist over time. Perhaps they were never sexist in the first place, and were actually a knowing comment on objectification and crass male fantasies. I think the real reason the controversy died down was because everyone stopped looking. Jones’ work simply isn’t good enough to warrant regular revisiting. As a result, everyone forgot to be outraged by it.

If that’s an unfair assessment, it’s because his early paintings are actually quite good. In Sinderella a man and a woman’s legs twist around each other, suggesting both sex and joyous rhythm, two becoming one in a fluid but muscular portrayal of dancing. In paintings like Interesting Journey and Curious Woman, human forms bleed out and meld with their surroundings in psychedelic explorations of Freudian ideas.

But my gosh, some of the later works... They’re the sort of paintings you’d expect a porn baron to have lining the walls of his Miami sex dungeon. Not because they are particularly prurient or perverted, but because porn barons are renowned for having appalling taste.

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