Berlin 90’s art scene and the pleasure of destruction.


Kunst! Was ist Kunst? Was will Kunst? Was kann Kunst? Warum ist Kunst?

(Art! What is Art? What does art want? What can art do? Why does art exist?)

Anonym*, 90’s, Berlin.


Some days ago, in the context of the 9th Berlin Biennale, the Russian Media and Art Theorist Boris Groys said that art of our times captures the desire and pleasure of  destruction. Groys wasn’t talking about destruction as an individual and voluntary decision, he wasn’t inviting us to use our hands and throw things away. Groys was talking about the pleasure produced by the simple fact that matter disappears. He distinguished the way in which this pleasure is founded in art produced within a digital context from avant-garde’s political art. While digital artworks, through their electronic and material platforms, experience the destruction of matter in a slow and almost imperceptible way, avant-garde art was engaged with the exhibition of this destruction, they were looking for it to be staged; this is why, for Groys, a lot of the avant-garde’s artistic production choose to create ephemeral pieces condemned to disappear as soon as their form reached time and space. We could say that, in a way, some of this pleasure founded in destruction and the ephemeral character of art productions was involved during the development of 90’s Berlin art scene.


In times of political and economic uncertainty it wasn’t market or institutions what held art together, but spaces and people occupying those spaces. Berlintokyo Gallery was one of those spaces. The gallery worked as spectator of the spirit that surrounded a city trying to make some sense out of what was left after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the middle of the gray and black canvas, created by the DDR buildings, on the 10th of Mai 1996 a young enthusiastic group founded the berlintokyo Gallery. The space had as aim to provide a field in which all art forms could convey.


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The berlintokyo gallery was located at the Rosenthaler Straße in Berlin Mitte. As many of the spaces at the time, like the bar Friseur or the All girls gallery, berlintokyo wasn’t just a room in which art could be exposed, but also one in which every social activity could take place, that included, of course, parties and performances of all kinds. The art works exhibited in this gallery weren’t located to be contemplated, but to create a field in which action, objects and space produced a creative machine. Performative wasn’t an adjective for one art form, but one that described the way agency was conceived in this hybrid space. All this couldn’t have been possible without a community linked by the urge to create. What was going to be created? That didn’t matter. What matter was the possibility to take part on a community, to take part of something, something which next morning will no longer be there. One of the multiple anonym voices of that time express the spirit of this community like this: „I had no firm idea if now one was supposed to make art or not, but when someone said: Hey, now we are going to do something, then we were all in. One had the time and energy to do that, and had not really to be worried that there was something to eat or it was warm or that the flat was being paid“.




As it is still possible to see in some of the photos taken by Martin Eberle, the berlintokyo Gallery was a space in which basically pure action took place. Until its closing, on 10th May 1999, the berlintokyo Gallery held this spirit. We don’t know much about the ones who took part of the community gathered in this gallery, but we do know there was a group of people enjoying the very fact that something is being produced, no matter how long it is going to last. This is why I started talking about the pleasure of destruction. We could think that the community of berlintokyo Gallery was enjoying incessant creation, but we could also think that they were enjoying not knowing if their creations were going to be preserved. We could say that, in a way, they, through their three years of artistic life, were staging this exhibition of the ephemeral. When pure and instantaneous action take place without looking neither for a future in which a product will be preserved, nor for an object to be archived in order to be contemplated on another time different from the one of its production, I can’t but recognize there a pleasure of destruction.


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Photos: Martin Eberle, Galerie Berlintokyo 

*Wir sind hier nicht zum Spass. Kollektive und subkulturelle Strukturen im Berlin der 90er Jahre, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/ Betanken, 2013, S. 26.