Ethics into Aesthetics: Gustav Metzger and the Question of Beauty

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Abstract

Gustav Metzger is widely recognised as a pioneering artist-activist, whose powerful, highly politicised art is indelibly linked to the historical and political forces that shaped the C20th and directly impacted his own life. Described as ‘the conscience of the art world,’ he was an anti-war, anti-nuclear & environmental campaigner, deeply critical of capitalism - especially the art market - and pursued a revolutionary artistic agenda through the dissemination of his radical ideas in the form of manifestos and lecture/demonstrations, ‘auto-destructive art’ and an art ‘strike’ (years without art, 1977-80). Understandably, Metzger’s own story of survival, the shadow of war and his uncompromising views on society and the role of art tend to dominate accounts of his work and his widespread influence, while other facets, such as his interest in spirituality, his erudition as a scholar of art history, and his aesthetic sensibility have received less attention to date. This essay seeks to redress the balance in part by examining the overlooked role of beauty and aesthetics in Metzger’s artistic theories and output. It traces the development of his aesthetic sensibility through early formative experiences and experiments with materials to the choreography of complex perceptual experiences in his late works and installations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBecoming Gustav Metzger
Subtitle of host publicationthe early years: 1945-1960
EditorsNicola Baird
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBen Uri Research Unit
ISBN (Print)9789900157707
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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