Thuistezien 167 — 04.02.2021

Pontus Kyander
Gustav Metzger as artist/activist

For the symposium ‘Gustav Metzger: The Conscience of the Art World’ in 2018, West Den Haag invited the Finnish curator and art writer Pontus Kyander who has known Gustav Metzger since 2001 and has curated a number of shows with Metzger’s works. In his talk, Kyander introduces the audience to the early years of Metzger’s life and artistic career, with the focus on how Metzger’s evolvement into becoming an artist activist is a prime concern. It is Kyander’s intent to do so with a straight forward and linear narrated story about the highlights and turning points of Metzger’s life and career in which he emphasizes the use of Metzger own words to make his points more precise.

Kyander’s discourse starts in Nürenberg, Germany where Metzger was born in 1926. The city then was an interesting melting pot because it, at one hand, inhabited the one of the largest Jewish communities of Bavaria and, on the other, happened to be the center for a highly active nazi community, which escalated when the nazi regime chose Nürenberg as a symbolic city, perfectly situated for their celebrations and rallies. While it may be seen as a disturbing place to grow up for the Jewish born Metzger but, the artist believes the place gave him the best education in art since the staged mass displays of lights, of impressive flags and uniforms, in fact, all has to do with art and design.

What follows is an in-depth examination of Metzger’s life until 1962. We follow his journey from joining activists movements in Leeds with socialist activist Wilhelm Reich as an role figure, to having an art hiatus and earn his living through opening a second hand store in the countryside of England and to, eventually, discover his interest in auto destructive art after seeing the exhibition ‘This Is Tomorrow’ at Whitechapel Gallery in 1955. As Kyander points out, Metzger had an interest in the process that goes on in the material less than in the performance of the artist. He becomes fascinated by the aesthetic of revulsion which is made physical in his acid paintings. The interest in natural decay is also motivated by the effect it has on the art dealer’s system. As he points out, auto-destructive art opposes not only the emotional and intellectual artistic plane but also the economic and it directly undermines their system in many ways. It is with a great amount of words that Metzger demonstrates his points and ideas about art with no less than 5 manifestos made between 1959 and 1962. And, as Kyander ends up with suggesting, it is interesting to notice how Metzger brought forward not only a highly activist political language but also a very poetic language in his writing. Metzger was, first of all, an artist but it is clear that he was a writer as well.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg