Always Crashing in the Same Car: The Gagosian’s sprawling tribute to J.G. Ballard

Published on Towards a Magazine, March 2010

Slip through a grey door on Britannia Street, a nondescript road in King’s Cross, and you’re confronted with what appears to be the leg of a giant robot ostrich.

Dominating the small room in which it lies, the giant metal leg – complete with four-wheeled foot – is disorienting by virtue of its sheer size. You quickly breeze past and find yourself at an open doorway. Above it is inscribed, with several letters pointing backwards: “we are all going to die”.

The ostrich leg is, in fact, Scottish artist Adam McEwen’s Honda Teen Facial: the landing gear of a Boeing 747, sheared from its moorings and strewn, apparently at random, across the room. The words above the doorway come courtesy of another Scottish artist, Douglas Gordon. You are in the Gagosian Gallery, one of two in London and of nine in the international network of art houses owned by millionaire collector Larry Gagosian. The exhibition, Crash, is a collection of works inspired by the writer JG Ballard, who died last year aged 78.

Best known for the novel that gave the exhibition its name, Ballard was the author of 19 novels, countless short stories, and the autobiography Miracles of Life. His main mode was dystopian science fiction. Perhaps no other postwar writer has sought so obsessively to explore the place of humanity in modern post-industrial society. In Crash, a gang of bored thrill-seekers plan car crashes for sexual pleasure. In The Drowned World, scientists explore a London left underwater by the melting of the ice caps. In his short story collection Vermillion Sands, the wealthy residents of a resort enjoy high-tech soporifics such as singing plants, sound jewellery, and mood-responsive houses.

The Gagosian’s exhibition makes a respectable job of showcasing works which address similar themes to Ballard. But only a handful of the works share Ballard’s unique instinct for understanding human psychology and sexuality, and their condition under the pressures of modern society.

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