Allen Jones, “Bystander”

Art, Contemporary art
2 out of 5 stars
Allen Jones, "Bystander," installation view
Photograph: Courtesy Marlborough Gallery Allen Jones, "Bystander," installation view

In 2014, moneyed art-world gadabout Dasha Zhukova found herself in hot water after photographs appeared of her sitting in an chair by artist Bjarne Melgaard that was modeled after a black woman on her back, tied up with boots in the air to form a backrest. Many immediately dismissed the work as racist and Zhukova as complicit. Fewer recognized that it was based on sculptures that foundational British Pop artist Allen Jones made back in the 1960s. An essential layer of reference in Melgaard’s work was thus glossed over. But what of Jones?

In his first New York solo appearance since 1988, the artist reveals himself as still preoccupied with sexualized and anonymous female bodies, setting fiberglass mannequins in front of splashy abstract canvases and, in a nod to the contemporary, incorporating one such figure into a somnambulant digital animation.

The gallery’s press release gives Jones the benefit of the doubt by stating that he has “wrestled with the highs and lows of his preoccupations and shifting parameters of cultural acceptability.” But the refusal to accept changing contexts—aesthetic as well as ethical—is no more excusable in art than anywhere else, and in that sense, it’s hard to see that Jones has moved beyond a model of provocation that’s long since expired.

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