Gustav Metzger is an artist, activist and founder of the concept 'Auto-Destructive Art', where destruction was part of the process of creating the work. Born in the 1926, he arrived in Britain as a refugee following Nazi persecution.
In 1959 Metzger wrote a manifesto 'Auto-destructive Art’. He describes his Auto-destructive art 'as a desperate last-minute subversive political weapon...an attack on the capitalist system...(an attack also on art dealers and collectors who manipulate modern art for profit.'
Metzger’s public, performative, temporary and critical approach to art has had a huge impact through the decades – especially influential during the 60s and 70s. His work has been, and continues to be exhibited extensively around the world.
An example of his 'Auto-destructive Art’ was demonstrated in 1961 on the South Bank in London. Here he painted hydrochloric acid onto nylon canvasses wearing a gas mask and protective clothing, eventually the canvas disintegrated. The artwork was simultaneously created and destroyed. In the same year Metzger was jailed for civil disobedience with the Committee of 100, the anti-nuclear war group formed with the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He was associated with protests against American rocket bases in the UK and campaigns for nuclear disarmament.
In 2008, Metzger contributed to the Arts Catalyst event Nuclear Forum at The Royal Society of Arts, London. This forum was associated with a programme of events to coinside with the exhibition Nuclear: Art & Radioactivitiy, exploring the impact of nuclear power in art and culture. Prominent artists, writers and experts discussed their work and engagement with the issues around nuclear energy, from Hiroshima through the 50s' white heat of technology and the Cold War nuclear tensions to present day energy debates.