With Halloween still fresh in everyone’s minds, this paper conjures up a scene reminiscent of “The Bride of Frankenstein.” A metallic silver background greets the eye as the color pallet continues to sparkle and stun the viewer with its combination of blacks, reds, and yellows. Over a single repeat is a depiction of a Femme Fatal, dressed in silk or satin red clothing and black leather boots which seem to shine in accordance with the sumptuous background. What is most electrifying about the scene though is her face; framed by a shock of alternating white and black hair, her eyes are uncannily wide open, gazing into a middle distance off panel, and her stare doesn’t seem to be fixated on anyone, counter to what her attire might suggest. Dark make-up and clear, geometric earrings add to her femme fatal persona but do little to explain her expression.
The designer and artist behind this piece is Allen Jones, who is a relatively controversial British Pop artist. Heated debate swirls around many of his works due to his investigation of female sexuality, objectivity, and relationship power dynamics. Many of his most well-known works employ the female form through mannequins or divorce the form from self-agency to focus purely on shape and color. This particular piece was designed for the Xart Walls series of papers that were produced by Marburg Wall Coverings in the 1970s. Marburg commissioned an assortment of popular, contemporary artists to create papers that highlighted each artist’s unique style and current tastes.
As a risqué object, this paper falls under the “Lust” category in “The Virtue in Vice” exhibition on view at the Cooper Hewitt from 9/27/2017 through 5/5/2018. Through examination of craftsmanship, material, and form, the objects in the exhibition allow visitors to see how material culture effects our desires and ambitions or how, vice-versa, our aspirations effect material culture.
Emily Ewen is a student in the History of Design & Curatorial Studies graduate program at Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.