The Art of Destruction – Weekend – Kommersant

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The experience of World War II has shown that many axioms of culture are not axioms at all. For example, it turned out that art is not necessarily equal to creation: art can mean destruction, not the destruction of obsolete forms, but destruction as an aesthetic and ethical principle.

Text: Anna Tolstova

A man in a gas mask, goggles and helmet picks up a brush with a long stalk, dips it in paint and begins to apply smears on a large white canvas stretched over the frame. At this point, the performance begins. That is, a man in a gas mask, glasses and a helmet with a brush at the canvas has not yet performed, although viewers have become accustomed to such spectacles: Jackson Pollock splashes alkyd enamel on the glass in Hans Namut’s film, Georges Mathieu artistically dances in front of the canvas in a French TV show . But the performance of Gustav Metzger, a man in a gas mask, glasses and helmet, takes place directly on the canvas: instead of strokes on the nylon canvas, holes remain, holes grow, the canvas becomes dull and disappears before our eyes, the conflict of figure and background is resolved in mutual annihilation. offers beautiful views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames from Bankside Promenade. Metzger called it “acid painting of action” – he used hydrochloric acid as a paint. And the term “painting of action”, introduced by Harold Rosenberg, took on a new meaning in Metzger’s demonstrations of “self-destructive art”, as did the term “painting of ruins.”

Photos from Coventry after the first bombings of the Luftwaffe left no doubt that in the coming years, the cultural landscape of Europe will change dramatically – will become a landscape of ruins. Abstract logic suggested that constructive tendencies should prevail in post-war art, with the pathos of restoration and construction. But the photographs from the extermination camps abolished rationality, meaning, and abstract logic with all its deductions. “After Auschwitz, the feeling opposes the assertion of the positivity of cash existence, sees in it only empty chatter, injustice to the victims; the feeling is not acceptable to argue that in the fate of these victims can still be found some crumbs of the so-called meaning; this became objectivity after the events that condemned the construction of the meaning of immanence to insults and ridicule … – wrote Theodore Adorno in “Negative Dialectics”. – After Auschwitz, any culture with all its derogatory criticism is just rubbish. What happened in her estates and did not meet resistance, culture finally becomes an ideology, which she potentially was… He who advocates the preservation of culture, even if guilty of all sins, even poor, he becomes its accomplice and slander “he who renounces culture directly approaches the onset of the age of barbarism; and it is in this capacity that culture has exposed itself.”

Gustav Metzger (1926–2017) belonged to the generation of artists after Auschwitz who felt the lack of positivity of being and the impossibility of positivity in culture. As a result of his actions, “only rubbish” remained – it was in connection with Metzger that a wandering story arose about a cleaning lady who threw some rubbish out of the museum hall, but in fact it was a work of art (in 2004 commissioned by the Tate Gallery he repeated his “First Public Demonstration of Self-Destructing Art” in 1960, a garbage bag that was part of the resulting installation and fell victim to the museum’s cleaning). However, in the revolutionary 1960s, his protest words – declarations and manifestos of “self-destructive art”, which Metzger had tirelessly published since 1959 – were not often confirmed by a case like self-devouring acid painting: Metzger’s anti-creativity was programmatically anti-capitalist, because capitalism was the cause of all the world’s troubles, whether it was the market that turned art into a commodity, or militarism and the nuclear arms race, and, of course, that capital responded to this anti-creativity with complete reciprocity — funding was rare.

In September 1966, Metzger still managed to hold an international “Symposium on the Destruction of Art” in London: pioneers of happenings and veterans of “Fluxus”, lovers of breaking, cutting, tearing something cultural and especially high-cultural like the piano – and later the group The other masters of smashing a guitar during a concert will say that Metzger was their teacher (in the early 1960s Pete Townsend did study at the Art College where Metzger taught). John Letham (1921–2006), who specialized in destroying such a highly cultured product as a book (the very word “book” in the titles of his books, “skoob works” is always written the other way around, from right to left), set fire to three book towers, Skoob Towers “, Under the walls of the British Museum – he was assisted by Metzger and Yoko Ono. And bonfires from books, according to legend, the code of British law, unequivocally referred to Nazi actions.

Many examples of similar artistic destructions can be found in the art of the 1968 era: Jean Tengeli (1925–1991) designed intricate self-destructing machines from a variety of technical debris, as if in support of Metzger’s ideas about the destructiveness of machine civilization; Arnulf Rainer (b. 1929) practiced “painting”, covering with broad strokes of paint, often black, various images – his own drawings and paintings, reproductions of various masterpieces and even originals of other people’s works, for which he was sued. The art of the 1968 era was sick of the old culture, but artists like Metzger had one special reason for the sickness. Northern Ireland, Arab-Israeli conflict, threat of nuclear war, global terrorism, global warming – Metzger spoke on a wide range of political issues not only in art, he was an activist of the anti-war “Committee of One Hundred” (believed to be the name) and as one of the activists went to prison in the fall of 1961 for inciting peaceful protests against the nuclear race, sitting in good company with the committee’s chairman, Bertrand Russell, and other worthy people. But only in the series of “Historical Photographs” by Metzger in the 1990s did a deeply personal plot begin to emerge.

“Historical photographs” are based on a paradoxical technique: pictures documenting well-known historical events are magnified many times over, so that they could be viewed in minute detail if the eye did not encounter any obstacle – a blank fence, curtain, pile of garbage. Before the photo of the execution in the Warsaw Ghetto, a pile of broken bricks was piled up, a photo of Jews washing the streets of Vienna after the Anschluss was covered with a large yellow cloth. under the covers. Born into a Nuremberg Jewish family, Gustav Metzger came to London with his older brother in 1939 as part of Operation Kindertransport, and he never saw his parents again. The same material was used by Boris Lurie (1924–2008), whose grandmother, mother, sister and bride remained in the Rumbul Forest. to demand the abolition of art – the NO! art movement arose around the same time as the destructive art international of Metzger. These artists after Auschwitz – not figuratively, but literally – had a little more reason to work in the field of Adorno’s negative dialectic of culture and barbarism, creation and destruction, the possibility and impossibility of seeing. Metzger’s “swaying trees” in Manchester, a grove of willows uprooted from the ground and stuck in a concrete block, are rocking in the air, mourning the world of war and violence, where everything is turned upside down.

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