Gustav Metzger Historic Photographs: To Crawl Into - Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938 1996/2015 b/w photograph on PVC, cotton (cover) 315 x 425 cm. Courtesy The Estate of Gustav Metzger and CoCA Toruń.
Iwan Wirth, Manuela Wirth and Marc Payot, co-presidents of Hauser & Wirth, announced the gallery’s representation of the Estate and Foundation of Gustav Metzger. The first project will be an exhibition of work by the visionary artist at Hauser & Wirth in 2021.
The support of Hauser & Wirth will help to activate The Gustav Metzger Foundation, a charity which was founded upon Metzger’s death at the age of 90 in 2017. During his lifetime, Metzger defined the organization’s mission by envisioning not only exhibitions of his work and furtherance of the political and philosophical ideas he espoused, but also through support for individuals working in the fields of the arts and environmental studies, and for initiatives ‘to combat the risk of global extinction arising from the activities of humans.’
At the heart of Metzger’s prescient and enduringly influential 65-year practice was a passionate engagement with such constantly opposing yet interdependent forces as destruction and creation. A radical thinker, Metzger’s involvement in anti-nuclear movements such as the Committee of 100 and his life-long activism to combat environmental destruction were fundamental to his provocative questioning of the role of artist and of conventional forms of art-making and display. In what he termed ‘auto-destructive art’ — a public art form with strong affinities to Happenings, Conceptual, and Performance Art that emerged in the second half of the 20th century — he sought to mirror a socio-political system he viewed as indifferently progressing toward total obliteration of the natural world and humanity. Metzger placed the emphasis in his work on action over the art object, inviting people to actively participate in some his works to heighten their impact.
Metzger’s world view, art, and legacy are rooted in political protest against forces of oppression. Born to Jewish parents in Nuremberg in 1926, he arrived in Britain in 1939 as a child on the Kindertransport. His parents and most of his immediate family members would perish in the Holocaust. Metzger envisaged art as a means of communicating the futility and horrors of conflict and war. By 1958, Metzger had become heavily involved in anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist movements and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1960, he was a founder member of the anti-war group, the Committee of 100.
Metzger’s political activism provided the foundation for his first manifesto in 1959, titled ‘Auto-Destructive Art’. That year he also created his first auto-destructive artworks by spraying acid onto sheets of nylon, which caused the disintegration of work itself, as another form of anti-nuclear protest. As the first manifesto states: ‘Auto-destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies. Auto-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method and timing of the disintegrative process.’
Robert Craig, one of Gustav Metzger’s executors, and a trustee of the Gustav Metzger Foundation, says, ‘The Estate and Foundation of Gustav Metzger are delighted to have appointed Hauser & Wirth to represent them. Metzger was a visionary artist and thinker, whose artistic practice developed over his long lifetime. He introduced themes of auto- destructive art, and its converse auto-creative art, and was ahead of his time in foreseeing the perils of a world threatened by global warming. He grappled with the problem of how an artist ought to behave and work in order to combat the risks of world-wide mass extinctions resulting from human activities. The support of Hauser & Wirth will be crucial in turning Metzger’s ideas and legacy into a sustained plan of action for the Foundation’s charitable activities.’
The Estate and Foundation have searched for a gallery which could handle these ideas and give proper representation to Metzger’s artistic genius.
Robert Craig continues, ‘The Estate and Foundation have searched for a gallery which could handle these ideas and give proper representation to Metzger’s artistic genius. International interest in Metzger’s work has continued to grow since his death in 2017, and we sought out a gallery which could champion his work on a world stage. We believe we have found such a gallery in Hauser & Wirth. We are so pleased that he is joining the pantheon of distinguished artists whom they represent.’
Hauser & Wirth President, Iwan Wirth comments: ‘Metzger was a man of the future. His prescient actions and activism in support of the environmental movement have proven an ever-starker reality in the context of today’s world. We are deeply honored to begin working hand-in-hand to safeguard the legacy of this radical artist, thinker, and activist. I first met Metzger through Paul McCarthy, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Norman Rosenthal in London. Throughout our conversations he shared his beliefs about the role of artists and art – ideas that continue to exert a powerful influence. The lines of connections between Metzger and artists in the Hauser & Wirth family run very deep, including Allan Kaprow and Dieter Roth. We look forward to further advancing the understanding of this great artist’s contributions, both within and beyond the field of art, and to enabling the Foundation to galvanize its charitable activities. This announcement comes as our gallery focuses on its own environmental commitment and the sustainability initiatives we will share in the coming months.’
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