Gustav Metzger is an artist, political activist and celebrated Cambridge School of Art alumnus.
Born in Nuremberg in 1926 to Polish-Jewish parents, Metzger escaped Germany in 1939 - as part of the Kindertransport initiative to rescue Jewish children from the Nazis.
The young Metzger would spend the war years in Britain, later attending the Cambridge School of Art, and in 1948 going back to mainland Europe to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Yet his experiences in pre-war Germany remained with him, shaping his creative direction for the rest of his life. And over the next decade he would explore a variety of themes as he developed his own unique style.
In 1960, Metzger joined “The Committee of 100” – a high-profile peace movement whose members promoted the use of mass, non-violent resistance to spread their anti-war message. And it was around this time that he began experimenting with, what later became known as, auto-destructive art.
By spraying acid onto nylon sheets, Metzger was able to create rapidly changing shapes and images, as the material dissolved to reveal the cityscape beyond.
Metzger’s auto-destructive art was inherently political, carrying anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist messages. It highlighted the perceived negative impact of technology on mankind, and demonstrated the self-destructive nature of human society.
In 1962, Metzger took part in the Festival of Misfits at Gallery One in London, organised by Fluxus, a small but influential band of artists who challenged the conventions of what art is.
In 1966, he worked with John Sharkey and other artists to co-ordinate the Destruction in Art Symposium in Covent Garden, bringing together a number of artists, poets and scientists to explore the theme of destruction as an art form. The manifestation gained worldwide media attention, beyond the artistic community.
In 1969, Metzger became editor of the London-based Computer Art Society's journal, Page, shifting the journal’s focus towards a critique of science and technology.
In the 1970s, Metzger became disillusioned with the art world, specifically with the exploitative nature of commercial galleries, and he famously held an art strike from 1977 to 1980, during which time he refused to produce, sell, exhibit or collaborate with “any part of the publicity machinery of the art world”.
Since returning to work in 1980, Metzger has continued to create and exhibit around the world. In 2009, the Serpentine Gallery in London featured the most extensive exhibition of his work in the UK.
In 2012, Metzger’s collaborative project Null Object was shown at The Ruskin Gallery, Cambridge. In 2014, an exhibition of his work was held at Kettle’s Yard. Tate Britain has recently devoted an entire room to his work, and
Tate Modern is currently showing Liquid Crystal Environment.
Gustav Metzger continues to create thought-provoking works that challenge preconceptions around what makes art, art. His work is an inspiration for our students, and particularly those at the Cambridge School of Art, who aspire to continue in its tradition of challenge and excellence.