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The grandfather of radical art

Art should mirror its contemporary, so if it arises in a self-destructive social order, must art also be self-destructive? This premise lies behind artist Gustav Metzger's radical works from the 1960 century. Now the longtime activist and artist is the subject of two exhibitions in Oslo.

In twentieth-century art history, there is hardly a more iconic image of the committed and uncompromising activist artist than the photograph of Gustav Metzger wearing a military jacket, gas mask and helmet on three suspended nylon sheets with an acid-filled paint gun. The photograph was taken during a performance at London's South Bank summer 1961, where Metzger gave a demonstration of auto-destructive art – a term he had coined a few years earlier. The fabric disintegrated as the acid hit the surface, like abstract paintings where the rapid strokes are replaced by blemishes, and after about twenty minutes, only strips of sheets remained. In the leaflets distributed, Metzger explained that auto-destructive art "demonstrates man's ability to accelerate and control the destructive processes of nature."
Art should mirror its contemporary, it is called, and if it arises in a self-destructive order of society, must art also be self-destructive? Such thinking seems to have been the basis of Metzger's demonstration. Although not many of the spectators were familiar with this type of artistic action, Metzger's imagery was not unknown at a time when the notion of an imminent nuclear war was part of the collective consciousness.
Metzger's auto-destructive demonstration was an activist and critical act, a protest against the Cold War race. . .

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