Olaf Metzel was born in 1952, in Berlin. From 1971 to 1977, he studied at the Free University Berlin and at the Berlin University of the Arts. After first figurative works (Roter Beton (Red Concrete), 1981), Metzel soon started to concentrate on spatial installations. Early on, his works were grounded in a social and political commitment (Türkenwohnung Abstand 12.000,- DM VB (literally: »Apartment for Turks, 12,000 DM Deposit, Basis for Negotiation«), 1982). Since the 1980s, Metzel has taught at several institutions, among them the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg, where he taught as visiting professor. In 1990, he was awarded a professorship at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich, and served as rector from 1995 to 1999.
Olaf Metzel’s art appears aggressive, destructive, provocative. An example of the contestedness of his works is the public reaction to his project Das große Rasenstück (The Large Piece of Lawn) with its installation entitled Auf Wiedersehen (Good-bye), done at the occasion of the soccer world championship in 2006. His clearly referential titles (Stammhein [German prison] 1984; Turbokapitalismus (Turbo-Capitalism), 1999; Nicht mit uns (Not With Us), 2000) position themselves as explicit commentaries on political events and their medial treatment. Yet they also comment on a saturated art world that seems to have conceptualized, to have seen it all. Metzel understands art as intervention, as agency, and points towards art’s potential as grounded in action. With his probably most well-known installation, entitled 13.4.1981 and done in the context of the Berlin »Skulpturenboulevard« 1987, Metzel referred to the demonstration of April 12 and 13, 1981. The demonstrations had been reactions to a false report of the death of RAF (»Red Army Fraction«) prisoner Sigurd Debus. Metzler’s installation was accompanied by intense public protest. He formed a tower-like, sculptural body from stacked and interlocked red-and-white police barricades right in front of the Café Kranzler where the demonstration had taken place.
Metzel’s artistic interest focuses on the possibilities of sculpture in public place. With barricades or stadium seating, he uses objects with symbolic value mostly from urban contexts, positions them in public places and enforces reactions – as in the case of the Berlin installation. Its removal was finally decreed by the Senate of Berlin. However, his works should not simply be contained within categories of critical commentary on political events or manifestations of protest. Rather, behind the apparent critical destructiveness of Metzel’s works – they sometimes do include the controlled destruction of objects through the artist himself (Idealmodell PK, 1987;Laborprobe (Lab Sample), 1990; Milieufragen (Questions of Milieu) 2007) – there is an aesthetic dimension and an artistic self-questioning: The subtle composition of objects that are sometimes specially made for the artistic project, their formation, format, and materiality in the specific context of place, includes destructive yet also constructive aspects.
Also, Metzel’s 112:104 an expansive installation made from torn elements of a gymnasium floor, from discarded basketball backboards, and ceiling bars reveals itself only at first sight as an allegory on the blind destructiveness of a roaring crowd or a generally pessimist stance towards cultural practices. With its inconspicuous scoreboard indicating the current scores 112:104 that also serve as title, they provide only a vague reference to the context of sports. The realization of the installation built from seemingly familiar materials used in sports refers back to the installation’s own art character. It relates to other formal as well as contents-based aspects of the objects. Neither the dimensions of the single parts, nor the materials were taken from the actual realm of sports. Rather, they were produced according to artistic criteria, taken apart in specific, subtle ways, and put together, again following a specified plan. Metzel’s works are precariously balanced between the pictorial qualities of the »things« made and the object qualities they acquire in their spatial constellations. The ambiguity of 112:104, for example, is emphasized through the tribute paid by the expansive layering and the ruggedness of the parts to Caspar David Friedrich’s well-known Eismeer (Die gescheiterte Hoffnung) (Sea of Ice (The Wreck of Hope)) from 1821. In other works, for example, in Laborprobe and in the more recent Nürnberger Turm (Nuremberg Tower) made from elements of stadium seating, the link to art historical predecessors becomes a platform for Metzel’s repositioning of the sculpture as creative-processual form of expression. Both works clearly cite Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920). Moreover, there is a consciousness of material and a relatedness to the place of installation that characterize Metzel’s work.
Metzel had his first solo exhibition in 1982, in West-Berlin. In 1987, he participated in the Documenta, Kassel and, in 1987 and 1997, in the exhibition Skulptur. Projekte Münster. Since 2006, Metzel has himself been curator of the exhibition »YBA – Young Bavarian Art« at the Gagosian Gallery, Berlin. Beyond sculptures, objects, and installations, recent exhibitions have also shown Metzel’s comprehensive collection of drawings that offer insights into the developmental process and into the specific positioning of his sculptural work.
Olaf Metzel lives and works in Munich.
Olaf Metzel: Ausst.-Kat. Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal 2007
Olaf Metzel – Zeichnungen: Ausst.-Kat. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart 2006
Olaf Metzel – Deutsche Kiste: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Kunstsammlungen, Institut Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt 2001
Olaf Metzel, Christina Iglesias – Damenwahl: Ausst.-Kat. Haus am Waldsee, Berlin 1999
Olaf Metzel – Skulptur: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstraum München, München 1982