Marlborough is pleased to present Bystander, an exhibition of new work by the English artist Allen Jones. Consisting of paintings, painting/sculpture hybrids and an animated video, it is the first New York solo show of recent work since 1988 and marks a return to the city where he lived briefly in the mid-1960s and which left a profound impression.
As an early and key player in British Pop, Jones and his compatriots, like R.B. Kitaj and David Hockney, set out to disrupt the staid academicism of the Royal College of Art through the embrace and reuse of commercial subject matter. Though it is hard to imagine in our contemporary landscape, these affronts to status quo were sufficient to secure his expulsion. He gradually focused on the female figure as a vehicle for exploring both moral and aesthetic preoccupations. Jones has simultaneously excited and incensed the art world that cast him in an unusual role of a perpetual insider/outsider. Like other great artists, such as Tom Wesselmann or Peter Saul here in the US, he has wrestled with the highs and lows of his preoccupations and shifting parameters of cultural acceptability.
Situated at the gallery entrance is In Your Dreams, a digital animation of Jones’ 1969 sculpture Hatstand, depicting a figure with arms outstretched. This sculpture is both a calling card and a provocation that has become a touchstone of his career. The image sets a tone for a combination of fetishistic eroticism and sophisticated formal exploration. Jones says, “after all these years of standing still, I wanted the sculpture to take a break.” This chimes with the artists recent preoccupation with movement that breathes new life into an old sculpture.
In the adjoining gallery, a number of roughly square oil on canvas paintings present a tantalizing mixture of exacting draftsmanship and lushly hued, brushy abstraction. Mainly depicting men and women in nightclub banquettes and theatre balconies, the paintings achieve a curious equivalence of graphic immediacy and painterly abandon. Each technique contributes, in its own way, to the flushed breathlessness of the scene. Situated in the center of this space is Screen Test (2016), a painted sculpture that achieves much of the same effect in three dimensions. Tracing a half-circle of veneered plywood that mimics the curve of the painted balconies, the piece is bookended by signs for male and female figures that blend in a blast of red and blue abstraction. The man’s body forms a question mark and reaches for the more articulated depiction of the woman. This work is in keeping with Jones’ earlier explorations of hermaphroditic subjects as well as his tendency to relegate men to a peripheral presence—an aura of desire.
In the final room, Jones presents a related group of painting/sculpture combinations that pair hand-painted fiberglass figures, perched on movable stools, with purely abstract canvases that appear to have expelled them into the third dimension. The figures can be moved in relation to the canvases, creating changeable and dynamic interplays. The punning titles (Bystander, Kind of Blue, and Backdrop) hint at purely formal considerations, but the effect of the painted nudes is visceral and indicative of the continued resonance of Jones’ long career.