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Auto Destructive Art by Becky Rydel

So, what is Auto destructive art?

ADA is comparable to Dadaism in how it rejects past concepts of logic in order to redefine art and bring light to current issues, however it is its own movement which primarily focuses on destruction; both physically and metaphorically. auto destructive art is nothing like the traditional painting on a canvas, and is widely used throughout all mediums of art such as sculpture, performance art, and song; it is anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, addresses society’s fascination with destruction and the negative impacts of machinery on our existence.

We’ll move onto the origin of this movement in a moment, but for now I think it would help to see some examples of ADA and explain a bit about the pieces,

this first image is of a public work called “flailing trees” by Gustav Metzger (you’ll learn a lot about him soon) which was commissioned by Manchester International Festival in 2009, to be displayed in their peace gardens. These may look like simple upside trees at first glance but its actually a powerful statement, the trees uprooted and inverted in concrete, where there should be leaves and blooms, the roots show how nature has withered away, demonstrating humankinds destruction of their environment and violation of nature.




This next image is from a controversial piece of performance art by Yoko Ono at the Museum Of Modern Art, the work, titled “cut” begins with Yoko herself sat on the floor fully clothed, with the audience queuing up to cut off pieces of her clothing, one by one. The symbolism behind this work is initially obvious, with a clear representation of female vulnerability, but also destroying the traditional relationship between the artist and viewer. This work was created in 1971, however female vulnerability is still a struggle in the modern day, even with this art alone! If you type in “yoko ono cut” into a search engine this image and ones with less clothing are the most abundant, with hardly any of her fully clothed; Further proving her point.


Now that we’ve seen some examples of Auto Destructive Art, let’s move onto some of the history behind this movement. ADA began with Gustav Metzger, a Bavarian born artist who moved to Britain during World War 2 in 1939, as a refugee under the Refugee children movement, after the war he received a grant from the UK Jewish community to study at the royal academy of fine arts between 1948 and 1949, WW2 had a profound impact on Metzger, with the destructive capabilities of society leading him to become the leader of two new movements, Auto destructive art, and “Art Strike” formulating what destruction is and its relation to art. WW2 affected society and artists alike in a much more intense way than WW1, with the second world war came the extensive use of aircrafts and nuclear weapons; this horror changed many artists views on the world, where they used to be inspired by everyday life, painting traditionally in the styles of impressionism and expressionism, they turned towards protest, and disgust at society, many of these artists expressed this in the forms of cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism, whilst others were influenced to use extensive corrosion, stress, and heat to create, or rather, destroy, their work.

Auto destructive art is therefore highly influenced by the war and its casualties, but as with all movements, it is ever changing, with many modern artists focusing on current crisis such as climate change, racism, homophobia, and a failing economy.




The first acid painting was created by Metzger in 1959, during the cold war as a form of creative protest, this video is a re-enactment of his initial work, he begins by spraying acid onto a nylon sheet, which will dissolve the material in 15 seconds, producing rapidly changing shapes, this work is said to be both auto destructive, and auto creative art, Metzger encouraged artists to team up with scientists and engineers to create their work in a safe and unique manner.

The movement itself did not have a proper name until after this work, early in the 1960s, when an article in the journal “Ark” was written with the title “machine, auto creative and auto destructive art” Throughout the 1960s ADA gained popularity with the swiss sculpture artist, Jean Tinguely creating the first self-destructing machine sculpture, set into motion on the 18th of March 1960, titled “Homage a new York” the piece is a self-constructing and self-destroying work of art, made up of bicycle wheels, motors, a piano, and even a bathtub amongst many other random objects!



The final sculpture stood over 27 feet high, 23 feet long and painted entirely in white. Once positioned in front of the audience in the Museum of modern arts sculpture garden, the sculpture began to batter itself into pieces whilst a radio recording from Jean explaining his work played in the background whilst a shrill voice corrected him on his own work; shortly after being set in motion the fire department put an end to the performance, with the remnants being kept inside the gallery.

According to the artist, this work was an attempt to liberate himself from the material, and gain true creative freedom, he believed a work of art could never be completed which is partly why he moved from traditional paintings to these kinetic sculptures, this work was supposed to completely destroy itself, leaving no trace of its existence before the fire dept. stepped in, it was important for the piece to be the opposite of the nearby skyscrapers, cathedrals, and the “museum idea” that everything should be perfect and preserved in time.


Another key moment in the history of auto destructive art is another of metzgers works, a public demonstration “destruction in art symposium” in London, in 1966, and again in 1968 in New York, when he stacked books into a sculpture named the “skoob towers” and set them on fire; symbolising how western culture burnt out and backwards. In the modern day, auto destructive art is not widely taught or recognised but still has a large number of artists who learn about the movement themselves, and bring to light worldly issues through their work, such as Pete Townsend and Kieth moon from the band, The WHO, with the guitarist smashing his guitar on stage, shortly followed by the drummer placing explosives in his drums.



The movement has begun to make a comeback with the exhibition “Damage Control: Art & destruction since 1950” at the Hirshhorn museum and sculpture garden in Washington D.C in 2013, and bankys famous shredded painting, you’ll have probably heard about this one, “love is in the bin” previously known as “girl with balloon” where his painting was sold at auction for a record £1,042,000! Before to the shock and horror of onlookers, shredding itself immediately after being sold; according to Banksy themselves, the work was supposed to completely shred itself and had worked everytime in the rehearsals; this provocative act was intended as a protest at the greed of the art market, concerned with nothing but monetary value and status; as was the case with Yoko Onos work however, it seems they still did not understand the meaning of the clearly anti-capitalist demonstration as attendees to the auction began scrambling to pay more for the painting thinking it would be worth more, and praising the piece to be “the first artwork in history to be created live at auction”



the good news however is that this act of mischief alone has brought back the ADA and Anti art movements; With the most recent and currently most controversial being the defacing of statues of slave traders and racists, with arguments, protests and anti-protests on whether they should stay up or not; and many being taken down by the government before they can by protestors, the first of these being the symbolic breaking of the slave trader “Edward Colston” who was removed from his pedestal to be sank in the same canal where his ships docked; all around the world people are engaging, knowingly or not, with the key ideals of auto destructive art; by protesting worldly injustices through the medium of Art.


thank you for reading and i hope you learnt something new,

written and edited by: Becky Rydel

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