The Schmooze

Gustav Metzger: Staving Off Humanity’s Self-Destruction

The doughty old UK counter-culture artist and agitator Gustav Metzger is more active than ever. Last year’s exhibit, “Gustav Metzger: Decades 1959–2009,” at London’s Serpentine Gallery recently traveled to west-central France, where it was seen from March 10 to June 15 at Rochechouart’s Musée départemental d’art contemporain. Its next scheduled stop is in northern Italy, at Trent’s Fondazione Galleria Civica.

An insightful catalog from Koenig Books in Cologne explains how Metzger was born in Nuremberg in 1926 to Polish-Jewish parents. In 1939, Metzger and his brother Mendel were brought to England by a Kindertransport rescue mission, but their parents were murdered in Buchenwald. In the exhibit catalog, Metzger tells an interviewer that his intellectual development “began as a child in Nuremberg, reading the Bible. You can’t have a greater introduction to intellect and history, and that’s what I had from the age of three. And I was fully prepared to take it in, and I was happy to learn whatever I could as a young, budding Jew.”

As a young resident of Leeds, Metzger embraced art as activism, a way of trying the prevent wartime tragedy from recurring. Obsessed with humanity’s self-destruction, he first created “Auto Destructive Art” in 1959, a process which used acid to dissolve nylon. In a 2008 Tate Modern installation, Metzger piled newspapers into barracks, visually evoking wartime photos of Buchenwald.

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Gustav Metzger: Staving Off Humanity’s Self-Destruction

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