The Art of Destruction: Metzger, Matta-Clark and Bonvicini

In February 2001, the artist Michael Landy gathered together all his belongings, catalogued them and destroyed them. All 7,227 of his possessions - from stamps to a Saab 900 - were reduced to their basic materials and methodically shredded. He called this work ‘Break Down’. ‘Break Down’ came into being through a colossal act of destruction.

Since the 1960s artists have cut, crushed, erased, exploded, burned, shot and even chewed up their material in order to explore the limits of art. There is the famous story about the American artist Robert Rauschenberg erasing a drawing by Willem de Koonig and calling it ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’, thereby turning an act of destruction into a new act of creation.

However, there are other artists who have taken the notion of destruction even further. One of these is Gustav Metzger who in the early 1960s came up with the concept of ‘Auto-Destructive Art’. In 1960, he penned the ‘Manifesto of Auto-Destructive Art’, which reads like a kind of prose-poem:

Man in Regent Street is auto-destructive.

Rockets, nuclear weapons, are auto-destructive.