Gustav Metzger  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Gustav Metzger (10 April 1926 – 1 March 2017) was an artist and political activist who developed the concept of Auto-Destructive Art and the Art Strike. Together with John Sharkey, he initiated the Destruction in Art Symposium in 1966. Metzger was recognised for his protests in the political and artistic realms.


Early life and education

Metzger was born to Polish Jewish parents in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1926 and came to Britain in 1939 as a refugee under the auspices of the Refugee Children Movement. He was stateless since the late 1940s. He received a grant from the UK Jewish community to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp between 1948 and 1949. It is with an experience of twentieth century society's destructive capabilities that led Metzger to a concentrated 'formulation of what destruction is and what it might be in relation to art.'


His experience of twentieth century society's destructive capabilities led Metzger to a concentrated 'formulation of what destruction is and what it might be in relation to art.'

He was known as a leading exponent of the Auto-Destructive Art and the Art Strike movements. He was also active in the Committee of 100 - a 'named' member - and took part in their early anti-nuclear base campaigns of direct action and occupation.

In 1959 he published the first auto-destructive manifesto Auto-Destructive Art. This was given as a lecture to the Architecture Association in 1964, which was taken over by students as an artistic 'Happening'.

In 1962 he participated in the Festival of Misfits organised by members of the Fluxus group, at Gallery One, London. His proposal to exhibit the front pages of the Daily Mirror covering the Cuban Missile Crisis was rejected by the organisers Robert Filliou and Daniel Spoerri.

In 2005 he selected EASTinternational which he proclaimed to be "The art exhibition without the art.".

Throughout the 60 years that Metzger produced politically engaged works, he incorporated materials ranging from trash to old newspapers, liquid crystals to industrial materials, and even acid. "

From 29 September to 8 November 2009 the Serpentine Gallery in London featured the most extensive exhibition ever in the UK of his work. Exhibits included the installation Flailing Trees, 15 upturned willow trees embedded in a block of concrete, symbolising a world turned upside down by global warming. He felt that artists are especially threatened, because so many rely on nature as a big inspiration. Metzger stated that "artists have a special part to play in opposing extinction, if only on a theoretical, intellectual basis." "

Metzgers continued to make challenging art works around the world. He lived and worked in East London.


Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art

This was originally made in 1960 and remade as Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art in 2004.

Demonstration at the South Bank, London, 1961

Acid action painting

"Acid action painting. Height 7 ft, Length 12' 6". Depth 6 ft. Materials: nylon, hydrochloric acid, metal. Technique. 3 nylon canvases coloured white black red are arranged behind each other, in this order. Acid is painted, flung and sprayed onto the nylon which corrodes at point of contact within 15 seconds."

Construction with glass

"Construction with glass. Height 13 ft. Width 9' 6". Materials. Glass, metal, adhesive tape. Technique. The glass sheets suspended by adhesive tape fall onto the concrete ground in a pre-arranged sequence."

Liquid Crystal Environment

Liquid Crystal Environment was originally made in 1965 and remade in 2005.

Historic Photographs

This ongoing series of work consists of enlarged press photographs of catastrophic events of the 20th century presented to the viewer using confrontational and experiential methods.

Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art

This was a recreation of the original demonstration made in 1960. An integral piece of the installation at the Tate Britain, a bag containing rubbish, was erroneously disposed by a cleaner on 30 June 2004. Metzger declared the piece ruined and created a new bag as a replacement.

Flailing Trees

Originally conceived for Manchester Peace Garden and commissioned by Manchester International Festival in 2009, this work consists of uprooted trees inverted into a concrete block in a powerful environmental memorandum of man's destructive capabilities and violation of Nature.


The painter David Bomberg, the leading light of the Borough Group, taught Metzger and was influential in his development.


Metzger died at the age of 90 at his home in London on 1 March 2017.


Around the same time, he was lecturing at Ealing Art College, where one of his students was rock musician Pete Townshend, who later cited Metzger's concepts as an influence for his famous guitar-smashing during performances of The Who. He has also influenced the self-eating computer virus works by the digital artist Joseph Nechvatal.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Gustav Metzger" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools