Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art
The first public demonstration of Gustav Metzger’s concept of ‘auto-destructive art’ took place at the Temple Gallery in London on the evening of 22 June 1960. At the beginning of the performance, the artist was invisible to his audience, separated from them by a large pane of glass, across which was stretched a sheet of white Nylon. Using a modified paintbrush, Metzger then applied a hydrochloric acid solution to the fabric. As the Nylon came into contact with the acid it immediately dissolved, creating a swirling glue-like coating on the glass through which Metzger slowly became visible. The demonstration was recreated in 2004 as part of the Tate Britain exhibition, Art and the Sixties: This was Tomorrow.
Metzger’s concept of auto-destructive art was first described in his manifesto dated 4 November 1959. In this statement the artist sought to emphasise how even mechanically-produced objects – in which he believed society was placing a dangerous level of faith – would ultimately degrade, a process over which humans would have no control. In his second manifesto on the topic, released in March 1960, Metzger elaborated on his concerns, explaining that auto-destructive artworks sought to highlight society’s obsession with destruction and the damaging effects of machinery on human life. As well as carrying an anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist message, in the context of the early years of the Cold War the anti-nuclear tone of Metzger’s auto-destructive art was apparent (indeed in 1961 the artist was briefly imprisoned for his involvement in an anti-nuclear protest).