artist / participant
CoCa in Torun is opening the so far most extensive presentation of works by the legendary Gustav Metzger. ACT OR PERISH! is the first large-scale overview of an artistic oeuvre considered as one of the most important in the 20th century, and spans the period from the late 1940s until today. It includes a systematic insight into Metzger’s early years of political activism and his formative years as an artist. Showing the influence of environmental and political engagement on his artistic radicalization, it includes documentary material from the artist’s newly rediscovered own archives.
The exhibition is a collaboration between CoCA, Kunsthall Oslo and Kunstnernes Hus and was co-financed within the programme "Promotion of Diversity in Culture and Arts within European Cultural Heritage" from the EEA Grants 2009–2014 and from Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage funds. The aim of the project is to increase cultural dialogue and foster European identity through understanding of cultural diversity.
A central role in Gustav Metzger’s art is held by his manifestos for Auto-Destructive art. The exhibition sheds light on how this radical move evolved from his experiments and developments with painting. In particular, his "demonstrations" with acid paintings, together with works on industrial materials, like mild steel and plastic, show a direct relationship to the manifestos for Auto-Destructive art.
Parallel to this and as a direct counterpoint, Metzger wrote a manifesto for Auto-Creative Art and worked on related projects, where he allowed autonomous processes to develop forms and movements beyond the artist’s control, and in close proximity to science and technology. The ever changing and moving color patterns spontaneously created in his "Liquid Crystal Projections" became popularized through the aesthetics of psychodelic bands like Cream and Pink Floyd—in the same way as Metzger’s lectures on Auto Destructive Art inspired Pete Townshend and The Who to their trademark action of finishing concerts by demolishing their instruments on stage.
Inspired just as much by the strategies of early 20th-century vanguard movement as by political activism, Metzger was also involved in some of the emerging movements of the post-WW2 era. He was invited to the first Fluxus manifestation in Britain, the Festival of Misfits in 1964. Metzger also initiated the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS), a gathering of artists, gallerists and art activists in London in 1966.
In the 1990s, interest in Metzger’s work started to surge again. An extensive exhibition at Oxford MoMA in 1995 presented his older works, together with an entirely new body of works, called "Historic Photographs." In these works Metzger used photographs from distinctive moments in 20th-century history, representing violations of human dignity, political violence, and environmental abuse. These works are often, but not always, hidden, blocked or made unavailable in various ways to the viewer. Eichmann and the Angel (2005) is central among his late large-scale works, together with In Memoriam (2006), which is a tribute to Walter Benjamin. These works—where cardboard and newspapers have been used—show a strong continuity in the materials Metzger has used throughout his career; a raw, industrial aesthetic, a fascination with printed media, and an exploration of the tragedies of our time.
The exhibition starts at CoCA Torun and will travel to Kunsthall Oslo and Kunstnernes Hus. Each venue will present distinctively different exhibitions, as CoCA will provide a wide overview of Gustav Metzger’s career and works, while Oslo institutions will present deeper researched aspects of his works—his Auto Creative works, his works for public space and a much wider selection of documentary material.The exhibition tour will be accompanied by a book edited by NERO, containing contributions from the curators and experts on Gustav Metzger’s work, as well as a conference on the topics of artistic activism and extinction which will take place at CoCA Torun on May 28–29.
Curated by: Dobrila Denegri and Pontus Kyander
November 8, 2015–January 17, 2016: Kunsthall Oslo and Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo / Norway