Edward Allington

Ideal Standard Forms


Edward Allington 1951–2017
Object: 475 x 3000 x 2280 mm
Purchased 1988

Not on display


Ideal Standard Forms is a work of central importance in Edward Allington's career to which he has repeatedly referred throughout his working life. It is a floor-bound arrangement of nine geometric plaster shapes, distinguished by the simplicity of their forms. Each part differs - sphere, ellipsoid, cone, cube, etc. - yet they all share the same austere absence of colour and adornment. Most of these blanched forms were made by building up plaster over clay shapes that were later scooped and washed out. Allington writes: 'I worked using a kind of reduction or removal. I would pour and smear plaster over clay shapes, then dig the clay out so that I was left with crude moulds. And then I scraped, cleaning away all the traces of the original.' (Quoted in Allington, p.20.)

By describing how he dispenses with the 'original' clay shapes whilst retaining the mould, Allington alludes to his enduring interest in questions about authenticity and imitation. Such concerns point to the influence of the Greek philosopher, Plato (429-347 BC), whom Allington first read as a teenager. Plato proposed a distinction between the objects of sense perception - things that we see and touch - and universal, ideal forms of which they are an imperfect manifestation. All objects in the physical world are thus spurious and degraded copies of an authentic ideal form, unavailable to human perception. Allington later derided Plato as a 'cheat', and rejected the Platonic hierarchy of forms. His change of heart was prompted, in part, by a visit to Athens in the Summer of 1970. Having been fascinated by classical Greek culture since early childhood, Allington was shocked at what he found: 'the pride of Ancient Greece was available as the design on a tea-towel or in a plastic snow-storm.' Moreover, fibreglass replicas replaced the absent Parthenon marbles. In a 1983 interview, Allington said: 'As a holidaymaker I found it impossible to see the real Parthenon for the souvenirs and distorted depictions of it. Confusion about versions of the truth reared its head again. Finally I decided that the "real thing" just wasn't there.' (Quoted in Edward Allington 1984, p.26.)

Although Ideal Standard Forms refers to the ethereal forms of Plato's philosophy, it does so ambivalently. The decision to present hollow plaster moulds, while discarding the 'original' clay works, articulates Allington's dissatisfaction with Platonic notions of originality. He came to conclude that 'in a false world, the only truth is in the lie' (Quoted in Edward Allington 1984, p.7).

Further reading:
Edward Allington, A Method for Sorting Cows: Essays 1993-97, Manchester 1997, p.20, reproduced p.23
Edward Allington: In Pursuit of Savage Luxury, exhibition catalogue, Midland Group Nottingham, 1984, p.7, reproduced p.13
Edward Allington: New Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Riverside Studios, London 1985, [p.4]

Helen Delaney
July 2001

Display caption

Edward Allington made these works by smearing plaster over clay shapes, then digging the clay out so that only the crude plaster moulds were left. By destroying the ‘original’ clay shapes but keeping the moulds, he questions received ideas about authenticity and imitation.

As a teenager, Allington was interested in the Greek philosopher Plato (429-347 BC). Plato claimed that all objects in the physical world are degraded copies of an authentic ideal, which humans cannot perceive. Allington later called Plato a ‘cheat’ and concluded that ‘in a false world, the only truth is in the lie’.

Gallery label, September 2004

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