Act or Perish. Gustav Metzger – a Retrospective, curated by Dobrila Denegri and Pontus Kyander, is the first extensive 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 Gustav 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. Gustav Metzger was born in 1926 in Germany to a family of Polish-Jewish descent. He grew up in the shadow of increased Nazi propaganda and power display in his hometown of Nurenberg. Metzger was rescued in 1939 and taken to England by the buses of the Refugee Children Movement, while his parents and elder brother perished in the Holocaust.
A central role in Gustav Metzger’s art is held by his manifestos for «Auto-Destructive Art» – the first was published in 1959. 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, Gustav 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 Psychedelic bands like Cream and Pink Floyd – in the same way as Gustav Metzger’s lectures on Auto Destructive Art inspired Pete Townsend 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 Avanguard movements like Dadaists and Futurists as by political activism, Gustav 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 Gustav 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 Gustav 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 Gustav Metzger has used throughout his career; a raw, industrial aesthetic, a fascination with printed media, and an exploration of the tragedies of our time. (from the press release)
Act or Perish. Gustav Metzger – a Retrospective starts at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Torun (Poland) and will travel to Kunsthall Oslo and Kunstnernes Hus (Norway). Each venue will present distinctively different exhibitions, as CoCA Torun will provide a wide overview of Gustav Metzger’s career and works, while Kunsthall Oslo and Kunstnernes Hus 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, 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 21–22 May 2015. Act or Perish. Gustav Metzger – a Retrospective is organized with the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland within the program «Promotion of Diversity in Culture and Arts within European Cultural Heritage» – EEA Grants, in collaboration with Kunsthall Oslo and Kunstnernes Hus, and is under the patronage of The Embassy of Norway in Warsaw and UMK – Copernicus University in Toruń.
Act or Perish. Gustav Metzger – a Retrospective, a cura di Dobrila Denegri e Pontus Kyander, Centre of Contemporary Art, Torun, 28.03–31.08.2015, Kunsthall Oslo and Stiftelsen Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Exhibition opening: Saturday, 7th November, 2015, 08.11.2015–17.01.2016
Images (cover 1) Gustav Metzger, Supportive, 1966-2011 (detail). 7 Kodak SAV 2050 slide projectors with control units, rotating polarized filters, liquid crystals, Collection du Musee d’art contemporain, Lyon. © Photo: Blaise Adilon, Photo Courtesy: MAC Lyon (2) Gustav Metzger, Supportive, 1966-2011 (detail). 7 Kodak SAV 2050 slide projectors with control units, rotating polarized filters, liquid crystals, Collection du Musee d’art contemporain, Lyon. © Photo: Blaise Adilon, Photo Courtesy: MAC Lyon (3) Gustav Metzger, Supportive, 1966-2011 (detail), 7 Kodak SAV 2050 slide projectors with control units, rotating polarized filters, liquid crystals, Collection du Musee d’art contemporain, Lyon. © Photo: Blaise Adilon, Photo Courtesy: MAC Lyon (4) Gustav Metzger, Light Drawings, 2014. Photographic prints, unique. Image courtesy: Kettle’s Yard. (5) Gustav Metzger, Liquid Crystal Environment (detail). 1965, remade 2005. M5 control units, liquid crystals and 35mm slides, polarizing film. Collection of Tate Modern. Image courtesy: Kettle’s Yard. (6) Gustav Metzger, Auto-Destructive Art, Machine-Art, Auto-Creative Art, 1961. Third manifesto (South Bank Manifesto), includes also reprint of the first two manifestos. Offset print, 28.2×21.7 cm. Archiv Sohm, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Photo: Blaise Adilon, Photo courtesy: MAC Lyon.