The Daddy of Destruction; A New Documentary about Gustav Metzger Paints a Surprising Picture of the Artist Who Inspired Pete Townshend to Smash His Guitars

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 27, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Daddy of Destruction; A New Documentary about Gustav Metzger Paints a Surprising Picture of the Artist Who Inspired Pete Townshend to Smash His Guitars


Byline: ANDREW RENTON

GUSTAV Metzger is one of Britain's most influential artists, but you will not find his work in any museum or major collection. That is because the essence of it is its own destruction. Yet, for more than 40 years, he has proved to be a quietly persistent figure.

By definition, nothing remains of the work but its telling. But Metzger is a great witness of the cruelties of the 20th century, and a new documentary film by Ken McMullen, funded and distributed by Arts Council England, to be released on DVD in September, may prove to be the lasting legacy of an art that prefigured conceptualism, and of an artist who stands as a political conscience of recent history.

Metzger, born in Nuremberg in 1926, reached London as a refugee on the Kindertransport in 1939, and his "auto-destructive art" seems rooted in the shadows cast by the Holocaust, and the rise of Nazism he witnessed firsthand as a child.

The current Tate exhibition, Art and the 60s: This Was Tomorrow, and the recent BBC4 series on the Sixties, position him - through scant photographic and film documentation - as an oppositional figure to the Pop excesses of the time.

The project for which he is best known, which survives only in some grainy footage, consists of the artist swaddled in protective clothing and gas mask, as he painted, and then in later performances, sprayed, hydrochloric acid onto canvas.

Metzger's work might have appeared nihilistic, but it was shot through with political assertion: art, it said, is not a commodity, but occupies a troubling place in a troubled world.

Metzger would draw little distinction between his artwork and his political activities, such as the founding of the Committee of 100 with Bertrand Russell, an extremist breakaway from CND with radical plans for civil disobedience.

His antinuclear campaigning over 20 years can be seen in relation to his manifestos on auto-destructive art from 1959 onwards and to his "art strike", proposed in 1974, when he called for artists to abandon their practice for three years in order to collapse the gallery system. But such a plan required a solidarity among artists that would be impossible to achieve.

Metzger was an outsider, even at the height of his activities in the Sixties - his work was a far cry from the groovy Mayfair swank of the galleriesof Robert Fraser and Kasmin, where the likes of David Hockney and Bridget Riley were exhibiting.

But while we associate psychedelia with one acid tab too many, it's almost a surprise to learn that it was Metzger's attempt to marry the aesthetics of art and the progress of science that produced the "lava lamp" lighting effects of the early gigs of Cream and The Who, or that he inspired Pete Townshend to smash up his guitar on stage, after the guitarist had seen Metzger's early " performances" while a student at Ealing College of Art.

In the art world, Metzger's influence is more obvious. This year's Museum of Modern Art New York retrospective revealed the huge debt owed by Dieter Roth (1930-1998), an artist who tested materials (books, wood, even bananas and chocolate) to the limits of recognition, transforming-them utterly. And one needs only think of Cornelia Parker's exploded shed, Cold Dark Matter, to understand that Metzger's influence spans several decades. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Daddy of Destruction; A New Documentary about Gustav Metzger Paints a Surprising Picture of the Artist Who Inspired Pete Townshend to Smash His Guitars
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.