Art Under Attack exhibition web banner for Tate Britain exhibition

Aesthetics: Destruction in art

In 1959 Gustav Metzger published his first manifesto of auto-destructive art, in which he argued that it ‘is not limited to theory of art … it includes social action. Auto-destructive art is committed to a left-wing revolutionary position in politics, and to struggles against future wars.’ It is indicative that in 1960 Metzger was a founding member of the Committee of 100, a group dedicated to achieving nuclear disarmament through non-violent direct action, a cause for which, in September 1961, Metzger was sent to prison.

In the pursuit of this socially and politically engaged public art Metzger initiated the Destruction In Art Symposium (DIAS) in 1966, a month of events by a range of artists with a three-day symposium as its focus. Some fifty avant-garde artists from ten countries took part, as well as scientists, philosophers and psychoanalysts, to link theoretical instances of destruction with actual instances of destruction taking place in society, in science as well as art. The continuing significance of DIAS can be recognised in the extent to which it provides a marker for an art that rejected the objectified image in favour of the dynamics of the event, underscoring an engagement with social and political forces