Olaf Metzel became famous at a stroke in 1987. His sculpture 13.4.81 in Berlin's Kurfürstendamm, consisting of piled-up metal barriers, unleashed a storm of indignation. The work, formally reminiscent of Mondrian's New York Boogie Woogie (1942-3), alludes to a false report that appeared in the media in 1981, stating that the terrorist Sigurd Debus had died while on hunger strike. This resulted in a violent demonstration on 13 April 1981, hence the title of Metzel's work. The report appeared during the run-up to the Berlin elections and swung the vote towards the conservative parties. Metzel's response to this incident, which was never properly cleared up, came six years later, on the occasion of the Berlin 'Sculpture Boulevard'. Even so, the public reacted with outrage and hatred: the sculpture, which immediately became a trendy meeting-place, was seen as a declaration of sympathy towards terrorism. Metzel, harried by the press and threatened with countless anonymous telephone calls, left Berlin for Munich in a state of distress. From then on he was perceived as a 'scandalous' artist. Even professional art critics were blinded by the public reaction. Overlooking the contextual aspects of the work, they simply saw Metzel as a social critic. 13.4.81 certainly asserted art's right to have socio-political content, but held back from making a concrete political statement. Any specific political significance carried by the piece had derived from the groups who claimed the sculpture as their meeting-place: tourists, alternative thinkers and punks.
Metzel had already used a similar procedure with the intervention Turk's flat, furniture and fittings DM 12,000 o.n.o. (1982). Renting a flat from which a family of Turkish guest-workers had been evicted, he systematically wrecked it, carved a monumental swastika on the wall and put it up to let. Today this action would be labelled 'Context Art', but Metzel himself used the phrase 'Living Context' for his works dealing with the aesthetic control of social and political subjects, such as Landberger Strasse Petrol Station (1982) - a derelict garage in a suburb of Munich, which functioned as a studio/exhibition venue and as a meeting-place for prostitutes and the homeless. For the 1995 Istanbul Biennale, Metzel organised an autograph session with the club president, trainer, players and fans of the Turkish workers' football club Besiktas Istanbul, placing supporters' merchandise alongside drawings of variations on corners and free kicks. Although these were drawings of high artistic value, the press reports of this action appeared on the sports pages of the Turkish daily papers, demonstrating that contemporary culture no longer belongs with the 'arts', but on the sports page or under 'miscellaneous'.
For his recent exhibition at the Kunstbau, Olaf Metzel has brought together the cultured European's three most important leisure activities: sport, holidays and motoring. Taking up the Chancellor Kohl's phrase 'collective leisure-park Germany', Metzel has lined up one catastrophic scenario after another. Making no exception for the role of art in the dissipation of leisure time, the exhibition venue (a former underground station) provides a fourth activity with a high degree of leisure-value: visiting a museum. At the centre of the space is a double row of motorway crash barriers which run in an endless loop round the central pier of the gallery. Leading directly to traffic jams and death in accidents, this sculptural racecourse is titled First right, then left, then straight on (1996). Sport as an outlet for violence and aggression (which gives it a dubious quality as a leisure activity), is the subject of two works, 112:104 (1991) and Auf Wiedersehen (1996). Wedged together, these pieces comprise piled up parquet flooring from a gym, basketball baskets wrenched off their stands and a scoreboard stuck at '112:104'. This mass of rubble - simulating a violent outburst by fans - is both a formal allusion to Caspar David Friedrich and a modern symbol of aesthetic moral training in sport, similar to that discussed in Nick Hornby's novel Fever Pitch. German football fans yell 'Auf Wiedersehen' scornfully when a player from the opposing side is carried off the field injured. Here, Metzel builds the hooligans a sculptural altar consisting of a stand for spectators, overturned handball goals and a turnstile. Metzel's direct montage technique creates aesthetic zones that are free from morality, and which come perilously close to reality: right on time for the opening, a group of skinheads attacked a camp site in northern Germany, hospitalising the holiday-makers.