Dark, Sexy Art Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s “Crash”


Earlier this month, Gagosian Gallery London debuted Crash , a group exhibition that includes pieces from Francis Bacon, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst, and Andy Warhol, among others. It takes its title — and theme — from the controversial auto-accidents-are-sexy novel by J.G. Ballard. “Crash is an autobiographical novel in the sense that it is about my inner life, my imaginative life,” the British writer, who died last spring, once explained. “It is true to that interior life, not the life I have actually lived.”

Those who have seen David Cronenberg’s 1996 film adaptation of the book know just how deeply disturbing — and oddly compelling — the Ballardian point of view can be.

The gallery’s press release provides some additional context:

Ballard’s first published short story “Prima Belladonna” appeared in 1956, the same year as the celebrated Independent Group’s exhibition “This is Tomorrow” at the Whitechapel Gallery, which marked the birth of Pop Art in Britain. It was here, and in the work of Surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Paul Delvaux, that Ballard found the seeds of what he called a “fiction for the present day.”

View some of our favorite contemporary works from the show below, along with quotes from the artists about Ballard’s influence. If you’re in London, check out the exhibition through April 1, 2010.

Ed Ruscha, Fountain of Crystal (2009)

“‘A fountain of spraying crystal erupted around them’ in this work is a quote from Crash by J.G. Ballard — the first of his books that I read. It is like your windshield breaking in front of you and the shattering glass. This book hit me between the eyes.” – Ed Ruscha

Tacita Dean, Teignmouth Electron, Cayman Brac (Ballard) (1995)

“Even before I found Teignmouth Electron beached in the scrub on Cayman Brac, I had imagined it in the writings of J.G. Ballard. So in 1998, I sent him a photograph of Donald Crowhurst’s trimaran, abandoned in the undergrowth of the small Caribbean island.

“I wondered what Ballard felt about Crowhurst. He replied that he’d never taken much notice of Crowhurst and thought him a foolish man, but that the boat reminded him of the crashed Second World War aircraft they were still finding in the jungles of Pacific islands. This was the heart of Ballard’s vision — the object at odds with its function and abandoned by its time.” – Tacita Dean

Adam McEwen, I'm So Tired 139 (2007)

“… The spiral staircase leading up to first class on early 747s seems very Ballard: a portal to hidden sexual fantasy on board a technological marvel that threatens to smash into the earth at any second. Obliteration and orgasm. I think of that every time I see a plane’s wheels touching down, with that spurt of smoky ejaculate shot out the back.” – Adam McEwen

Loris Gréaud, The Future (2009)

“So far J.G. Ballard is my most important influence. His idea of the death of reality, the suburb, the future, have completely changed my vision of the present world and made me aware of what we don’t see but what is constantly present.” – Loris Gréaud

Carsten Holler, Giant Triple Mushroom (2010)

“My work is not a reflection on J.G. Ballard’s writing; it’s more that these mushrooms literally crash and form a new body. It’s not a sexual thing like in Crash, but it works on a similar level metaphorically. It’s about fragmentation, poison, paradise, cuts and wounds.” – Carsten Holler

All images courtesy of the Gagosian Gallery. Main image: Dan Holdsworth, Untitled (Autopia), 1998.