CRASH; Homage to JG Ballard, Febuary 11 – April 1 2010, Gagosian, Kings Cross, London

Gagosian Gallery in Kings Cross sits on a quiet side street off Greys Inn Road. The lacklustre exterior does little to hint at the plush modernist galleries filled with sexy, explosive artwork hosted within. CRASH is a group show of over 60 works in deference of the relationship between JG Ballard and the art world.

The title of the show is poached from Ballard’s 1973 novel in which former car-crash victims re-enact celebrity crashes to satisfy their increasingly extreme sexual fetishes. Ballard is master of the post-modern condition; his characters exemplify the perverse relationship we have with technological commodities. An expression of this sentiment exactly, Jeff Koon’s New Hoover Convertibles of 1984 belongs firmly at the centre of the show. The consumer electronic is a design which seems momentarily futuristic and has over time becomes a festishized vintage classic, all the while belonging to a domestic suburban target. Other works included function as a backdrop to the Ballardian diorama, urban hyper-real landscapes are the subject of Cyprian Gaillard’s floodlit cemetery and Dan Holdsworth’s uncanny approach down a motorway; Untitled (Autopia).

In the 1960s Ballard produced a number of what he called ‘advertiser’s announcements’. The writer purchased advertising space from magazines, including New Worlds and Ambit, and used them to display a photograph and accompanying epigram. One such epigram of Ballard’s advertising exploits suggests that just as Freud recognised of internal psyche “…it is now the outer world of reality which must be qualified and eroticised”. His strategies may seem indistinguishable from those of conceptual artists emerging at a similar time, but Ballard was without doubt a visual artist. He not only wrote but made collages, and cited Francis Bacon as his greatest inspiration.  

The first piece that confronts the visitor on arrival to CRASH is the undercarriage of a Boeing 747. The 10 foot brutish hunk of metal, jumbo rubber wheels akimbo is at first a too obvious physical illustration of the violence and technology associated with Ballard. Adjoining the area which the disembodied Boeing occupies is a ‘small viewing room’ containing the erotic Surrealist images of Man Ray and Hans Belmer, whom among others shaped Ballard’s analysis of our civilisation. The images are a combination of explicit and implicit representations of the female organ; as a face, a fragment, an incision and a meeting. A foot-note to the other rooms which see predominantly urban, technological and violent representations, this peep show transforms pieces of twisted metal and fetishized technologies, implanting them with an electric, sexual charge.

Perhaps this arrangement is a legal obligation, allowing those with a mild manner, or with children to avoid the explicit images. Whatever the reason, the ‘viewing room’ is an effective psychological mapping of space, performing to compartmentalise the chasten urges of a deviant citizenry.

Helen Kaplinsky

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