Gustav Metzger was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1926 to Polish parents. He escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 under the Kindertransport initiative and spent his childhood in Britain. After studying woodwork at O.R.T. Technical College in Leeds from 1941 to 1942, he went on to attend the Cambridge School of Art and then travelled back to Europe to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
Metzger was actively involved in protests against nuclear armament from the late 1950s onwards, and was one of the co-founders – along with the philosopher Bertrand Russel – of the anti-war protest group Committee of 100. After 1959 he gave his first demonstration of ‘Auto-destructive Art’, a term Metzger coined in his Manifesto Auto-destructive Art, in which he defined it as a ‘form of public art for industrial societies’: its form commenting on the 20th century’s potential for self-destructive obliteration.
In 1966 Metzger organised the international Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS), which brought Viennese followers of Aktionismus and various artists of the Fluxus movement as well as poets, musicians and psychologists to London. The purpose of the event was to create Auto-destructive Art and discuss its social implications.
From 1948 onwards he was represented at a number of major exhibitions including theDocumenta 5 (1972) and 13 (2012) and also at the Venice Biennial (2004). The Oxford Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective exhibition of Metzger’s work in 1998. He is also featured in Frequencies: Investigations into Culture, History and Technology (Annotations 3), a publication which collates the texts delivered at three seminars of the same title in which artists, designers and critics explored how technology is transforming our lives at the end of 20th century.
Metzger passed away in London in 2017 at the age of 90.