1960s Britain witnessed a seismic shift in attitudes towards sex and sexuality. The contraceptive pill made casual sex easier and safer. The 1957 Wolfenden Report recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality, finally legalised in 1967, and abortion and divorce were made easier. All this led to the idea of a ‘permissive society’.

But liberalisation of attitudes towards sex did not mean liberation for women. While some artists’ work reflected the new, freer attitudes, others articulated anxiety about the objectification of woman and the commodification of sex. All these social changes were not only reflected in the art and photography of the period, but also perpetuated by such images.

Lacey made a number of humanoid robots from an eclectic collection of redundant objects. Here these include real prosthetic limbs, a Victorian dentist’s chair, a stand for displaying bras and a plastic head filled with cuttings from pornographic magazines. Lacey wanted to express the unease he felt at the way society’s increasingly liberal attitude to sex objectified women and conditioned men to become womanisers with sex ‘on the brain’. 

Bruce Lacey, ‘The Womaniser’ 1966
Bruce Lacey
The Womaniser 1966
© Estate of Bruce Lacey

Tilson’s image summarises several key aspects of 1960s culture. The rich red, parted lips offer a clear sexual signal. The view of a starry sky inside the mouth sets this sexual invitation within the realm of the sublime and mysterious. That this is from a photograph is made clear by the inclusion of the beginning and end of adjacent frames and the edges of the reel of film. The work becomes a comment on the photographic dissemination of sexual allure. 

Joe Tilson, ‘Transparency, the Five Senses: Taste’ 1969
Joe Tilson
Transparency, the Five Senses: Taste 1969
© Joe Tilson. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021; From original photograph by Barry Lategan

Donaldson painted a series of works juxtaposing scantily clad women with abstract designs. The women appear to derive from photographs, possibly from pornographic magazines, but their forms have been severely simplified to remove any identifying details beyond their underwear. The sequence of images and the overall composition suggests the way women are depersonalised and become merely decorative forms. 

The suggestive stocking-top anticipates Jones’s later more explicit representation of erotic bodies. This was one of several works showing couples embracing so that they seem to fuse into a single organism. Jones stresses the physical, bodily nature of their encounter by emphasising their intertwined legs and disregarding their heads - normally the main way of individualising a figure. 

Antony Donaldson, ‘Take Five’ 1962
Antony Donaldson
Take Five 1962
© Antony Donaldson

Sorry, no image available

Allen Jones
Man Woman 1963