Auto-Destructive art

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A term applied to works deliberately intended to self-destruct. Works of art that are inherently short-lived are not unique to the 20th century—witness the butter sculptures of Tibet, the sand paintings of some North American Indian tribes, and the snowman made by the young Michelangelo for Piero de' Medici. However, the idea of using self-destruction as the point of a work did not emerge until the late 1950s. The most committed exponent of the genre has been the German-born Gustav Metzger (b1926), who originated the term and wrote several manifestos on the subject, the first in 1959, when he was living in England. From 1960 he gave public demonstrations in which he ‘painted’ with acid, spraying it on nylon cloth, creating rapidly changing patterns until the nylon was destroyed. Such displays have been interpreted as expressions of fatalism at the impermanence of all things and as protests against consumerism. Metzger himself maintained that he was protesting against arms expenditure. He also believed that Auto-Destructive art could provide an acceptable channel for human aggression. Among those said to have been influenced by his ideas is the rock musician Pete Townshend, whose stage act with his group the Who used to include smashing guitars. Apart from Metzger, the artist most associated with Auto-Destructive art is Jean Tinguely, whose approach was very different, stressing fancifulness and humour.

Subjects: Art.

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