British artist Gustav Metzger interviewed


This 28 May 2015 video from Britan says about itself:

Gustav Metzger, born in 1926, developed the concept of Auto-Destructive Art where destruction was part of the process of creating the work. In this TateShots the artist reflects on his long and influential career.

Themes of political activism and engagement are heavily rooted in his work. He arrived in Britain as a refugee after losing several members of his family in the Holocaust and was associated with protests against American rocket bases in the UK as well as campaigns for nuclear disarmament. He also went to prison for encouraging mass non-violent civil disobedience.

This new arrangement of his work currently on display at Tate Britain reveals how auto-destructive art emerged out of painting and sculpture as much as it communicated Metzger’s activism.

Another video used to say about itself:

On April 25 [2014] at 12:30 p.m., we hosted an Art Talk with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for a rare opportunity to hear directly from artist Gustav Metzger, who will be in conversation with the co-curator of the Damage Control exhibition and the Hirshhorn’s Interim Director and Chief Curator Kerry Brougher and Andrew Wilson, Curator of Modern & Contemporary British Art, and Archives at Tate.

Formative to the development of the Hirshhorn’s exhibition “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950” is the work of artist Gustav Metzger. Metzger, who escaped the Holocaust as a child in 1939 by fleeing to England, has influenced generations of artists with his concept of Auto-Destructive art, the direct use of destruction in art as a response to the self-destructive tendencies and policies of society.

Metzger was also co-organizer of the 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in London, a month-long event that brought together artists from around the world who were engaging in destructive activities. Metzger’s work and the invocation of destruction in art remain as relevant and important as they were more than fifty years ago when he wrote the first Auto-Destructive Art manifesto.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Taking control of art

(Tuesday 18 March 2008)

INTERVIEW: Gustav Metzger

CHRISTINE LINDEY hears from living legend Gustav Metzger how artists must point out the dangers that the world is facing from capitalism.

GUSTAV Metzger was born in 1926 in Nuremberg of Polish-Jewish parents. Aged 12, he escaped nazi persecution in the kindertransport.

He is now among Britain’s most influential living artists, yet you won’t see his work smeared all over the colour supplements, nor is it easy to find.

Why? First, because he has consistently taken an anti-capitalist stance as an artist and activist.

In 1960, he was a founder member of the CND Committee of 100 and designed its pamphlet. That same year, he urged artists to boycott the commercial gallery system and has avoided it himself ever since.

Second, his works have defied the art market in their form as well as their subject. Most are ephemeral.

In return, the mainstream art world ignored him for the next 40 years.

Through performances, articles, manifestos and installations, he has opposed and exposed the damage and destruction brought to humans and the environment by monopoly capitalism.

Respected by a few people for decades for his integrity and seriousness of purpose, he has finally been accorded major exhibitions in non-commercial venues. He is a living legend.

At a rare public lecture titled Art and Compromise at the Beaconsfield Centre for Contemporary Art, over 300 people, the majority of them in their twenties and thirties, pack the hall to hear him. The overspill audience have to make do with a video link in the cafeteria.

Softly spoken and mild-mannered, Metzger urges us to take control of life.

“Unless this happens, art cannot exist,” he says.

Stressing the importance for artists to be aware of what is going on in the world, he raises the issue of art and technology.

Exploitation of Third World factory workers lies behind the glut of technological goods which flood the rich West. According to Metzger, capitalism is the driving force behind this creation of wasteful products and wasteful activities.

“Ninety-nine point nine per cent of mobile phone conversations are unnecessary,” he says.

Yet he says that artists can and should use their understanding of contemporary media to change the world, but, to use this technology, artists have to compromise.

Metzger reminds us that artists have had to compromise with patrons since Michelangelo negotiated with the pope.

“No compromise” had been the nazis’ cultural slogan and their rigid policies had sanctioned reactionary art.

The fields of architecture, music, performance, education, town planning, sexual relations and opera all involve compromise.

“In partnered dance, there is negotiation and compromise, but it is harmonious and has meaning.”

Metzger calls on artists to instigate change. “I’ve come to the conclusion that the art community should phase out the art galleries; to save art.

“Secondly, we should phase out the auction houses.”

Artists can create co-operatives, he adds. “The need to create is inherent in human beings. We need not fear that art will fade away if the current commercial system was phased out.”

Artists and art schools should make a priority of confronting the waste of capitalist society. “Society is crying out for intelligent people to point out the dangers which we are facing in the world. We need to generate power … otherwise we are lost as a world and culturally.”

Asked how we can do this, he replies: “The best solution is to look at the past, at Soviet Russia until Stalinism. There, there was a revolution. There, artists reinvented art in relation to changes in society.

“And we can do this. We can use contemporary media to make changes. Otherwise, we are lost.”

It is easy to dismiss Metzger’s ideas as utopian. Artists alone cannot combat the forces of capitalism.

Indeed, the innovations of the Soviet Constructivists were possible precisely because they formed part of a wider political revolution. Their patron was the worker state.

Such debates may be familiar to our readers, but they are not for many of today’s depoliticised artists and the students who constitute much of Metzger’s audience. He is sowing valuable seeds of revolutionary thought.

Moreover, his previous works and actions appeared far-fetched in their time, yet they now reveal acute prescience.

In 1961, his public work Auto-Destructive Art Demonstration, which was re-enacted in 2006, was accompanied with a manifesto which ended: “Auto-destructive art is an attack on capitalist values and the drive to nuclear annihilation.”

You cannot get clearer than that.

In 1966, Metzger’s chemically created light projection Art of Liquid Crystals in Better Books in London’s Charing Cross Road surprised or shocked passers-by, yet light shows later became staples of rock concerts.

From 1977 to 1980, Metzger declared an “art strike,” arguing that artists had produced quite enough art without using up more of the Earth’s resources. This act now makes a lot of sense.

Word of Metzger’s appearances spreads like wildfire. He is speaking at Tate Modern on March 29 and it is likely to be full. It will be a rare opportunity to hear a major artist speak with wisdom and integrity. Book soon.

3 thoughts on “British artist Gustav Metzger interviewed

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