The Jewish artist Gustav Metzger, longtime resident of the United Kingdom, has long been an inspired artistic equivalent of the orators seen and heard at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, uninhibited deliverers of social and political messages. Born in 1926, Metzger the artistic orator finally has his first solo American exhibit, “Gustav Metzger: Historic Photographs,” at New York City’s New Museum, where his powerfully gritty assemblages can be seen until July 3.
“Gustav Metzger: Decades 1959–2009,” a 2010 publication from Koenig Books, explains how Metzger was born in Nuremberg in 1926 to Polish-Jewish parents. In 1939, Metzger and his brother, Mendel, were brought to England on a Kindertransport, but their parents were murdered in Buchenwald. Metzger told one interviewer that his inner development “began as a child in Nuremberg, reading the Bible. You can’t have a greater introduction to intellect and history, and that’s what I had from the age of three. And I was fully prepared to take it in, and I was happy to learn whatever I could as a young, budding Jew.”
As a youthful resident of Leeds, Metzger saw art as activism, a way of working to prevent the war’s horrors from repeating. British curator Sir Norman Rosenthal has explained how although Metzger studied with the eminent painter David Bomberg, he did not become a figurative painter like other Bomberg pupils, such as Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.
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