Seeds of Destruction

A History of Iconoclasm in British Art

Dead Christ (1500–20) Courtesy: The Mercers' Company

Dead Christ (1500–20)
Courtesy: The Mercers’ Company

In 1957, the artist Gustav Metzger mounted an exhibition of damaged art in King’s Lynn. ‘Treasures from East Anglian Churches’ was a selection of sacred artefacts that had been attacked during the period of iconoclasm between the English Reformation in the 1530s and the Commonwealth of 1649–60 when Britain, under the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, was effectively a republic. Metzger already knew plenty about annihilation. Born to Jewish parents in Nuremburg, he was evacuated via Kindertransport to England in 1939 at the age of twelve, just as Nazi Germany was engaging in genocide against its own people. His parents disappeared soon after. In the 1950s he was involved in activism, first with the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament and then as a founder of the Committee of 100. Later he made art born of material violence; nylon panels that he corroded with acid, and liquid crystal projections that melted and reformed under the heat of the projectors. He called it Auto-Destructive Art.

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