Gustav Metzger

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Gustav Metzger in 2009.

Gustav Metzger (born 10 April 1926) is 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 is recognised for his protests in the political and artistic realms.[citation needed]

Early life and education[edit]

He 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 has been stateless since the 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.'[1]


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.'[1]

He is known as a leading exponent of the Auto-Destructive Art[2] and the Art Strike movements. He was also active in the Committee of 100 - a 'named' member[3] - 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.[4] 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.".[5]

Throughout the 60 years that Metzger has been producing politically engaged works, he has incorporated materials ranging from trash to old newspapers, liquid crystals to industrial materials, and even acid. "[6]

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." "[6]

Metzger has continued to make challenging art works around the world. He currently lives and works in East London.


Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art[edit]

This was originally made in 1960 and remade as Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art in 2004.[7]

Demonstration at the South Bank, London, 1961[edit]

Acid action painting[edit]

Construction with glass[edit]

Liquid Crystal Environment[edit]

Liquid Crystal Environment was originally made in 1965 and remade in 2005.[9]

Historic Photographs[edit]

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.[10]

Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art[edit]

This was a recreation of the original demonstration made in 1960.[7] An integral piece of the installation at the Tate Britain, a bag containing rubbish, was erroneously disposed by a cleaner on 30 June 2004.[11] Metzger declared the piece ruined and created a new bag as a replacement.

Flailing Trees[edit]

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.[12]


The painter David Bomberg, the leading light of the Borough Group, taught Metzger and was influential in his development.[10]


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.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pioneers in Art and Science: Metzger (film), Ken McMullen (film director) 2004
  2. ^ Alan Liu, (2004) The Laws of Cool, University of Chicago Press, pp. 330–331.
  3. ^ Peace News, 15 September 1961, p 9
  4. ^ Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings (Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by Kristine Stiles) University of California Press 2012, pp. 470–471
  5. ^ "BBC - Norfolk - Entertainment - EAST International '05". 
  6. ^ a b Hanamirian, Jocelyn. "Gustav Metzger at the Serpentine Gallery London." Modern Painters, September 2009.
  7. ^ a b Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art, Tate Online, retrieved 30 August 2006.
  8. ^ a b Aesthetic Ideology in the Information Age, USCB, retrieved 31 August 2006
  9. ^ Liquid Crystal Environment, Tate Online, retrieved 30 August 2006.
  10. ^ a b Jones, A. Introduction to the Historic Photographs of Gustav Metzger, Forum for Holocaust Studies, University College London, retrieved 30 August 2006.
  11. ^ Jones, S. 2004. How auto-destructive art work got destroyed too soon , The Guardian, retrieved 31 August 2006.
  12. ^ Thomond, Christopher (30 June 2009). "Art and design,Art (visual arts only),Manchester international festival,Exhibitions,Environment,Culture,Sculpture (Art and design),Installation (Art and design)". London: Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  13. ^ Alan Liu, (2004) The Laws of Cool, University of Chicago Press, pp. 331–336 & 485–486.

External links[edit]

Media related to Gustav Metzger at Wikimedia Commons