Gustav Metzger: Hayward Action October

Gustav Metzger and David Bussel

In 1959, at time of his first solo exhibition in London, Gustav Metzger (b. 1926, Nuremberg) wrote the first of several manifestos. In it he inaugurated his theory of Auto Destructive Art, where the work of art becomes process-based, transformative and therefore temporal: relating to the passage of time through its own annihilation. He also characterised it as ‘machine produced and factory assembled’ like a readymade and collaborative, ‘a form of public art for industrial societies.’ Two years later, also in London, he presented Acid Nylon Painting, known as the Southbank Demonstration, where overlooking the Thames and watched by a audience, Metzger assembled three large nylon canvases in black, white and red on to an open metal rectangular cuboid support, one sheet after another, at which he ‘painted, flung and sprayed’ hydrochloric acid, destroying the fabric almost instantly.

For his Curator’s Choice print edition, the artist has collaborated with photographer Kristian Buus on an image taken from another iteration of this now historical performative action, staged by artist Brian Hodgson in 2006, also at the Southbank, London. The image, which for Metzger recalls the work of Barnett Newman, with its white, black and red ‘zips’ of colour, veils the figure of Hodgson, equipped with gas mask and acid dispenser, rehearsing the same ‘attack on capitalist values’ Gustav Metzger delineated in 1961, consonant with his life-long commitment to socially engaged, political struggles.

Gustav Metzger

Selected Exhibitions

2009 Gustav Metzger: Decades 1959 – 2009, Serpentine Gallery, London (solo)
2005 Gustav Metzger. Geschichte Geschichte, retrospective, Generali Foundation, Vienna (solo)
2005 Eichmann and the Angel, Cubitt Gallery, London (solo)
1999 Gustav Metzger – Ein Schnitt entlang der Zeit, Kunsthalle, Nuremberg (solo)
1999 Spacex Gallery, Exeter (solo)
1998 Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (solo)
1997 Kunstraum Muenchen, Munich (solo)
1972 Executive Profile, (within The Body as a Medium of Expression), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (solo)
1960 Paintings & Drawings 1945-1960, Temple Gallery, London(solo)


British Council Collection
Tate Collection


1948 – 1949 Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp

Note: Gustav Metzger would not ‘sign’ his print due to his beliefs. However there is an acid free sticker on the back attesting to it being a genuine print and one of the series. It is the only print Metzger has made in his career.