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Geniale Dilletanten

Subculture in West and East Germany in the 1980s

15 July to 19 November 2017

An exhibition of the Goethe-Institut and Albertinum, Dresden State Art Collections

In the late 1970s, an artistic alternative scene arose in both East and West Germany which, with its strident activism and deliberate provocation, was both sensational and found an intent audience. Infected by the British punk movement, the protagonists of this scene did not strive for virtuoso skill but were self-organized and fundamentally do-it-yourself, working outside common artistic and cultural norms and societal expectations. In a divided Germany, the subcultures took shape and found articulation differently on the two sides of the Iron Curtain. When compared, however, there were parallels and even points of contact across the border.

  • Punk auf der Straße, Prenzlauer Berg, Ost-Berlin, 1982, Foto: Ilse Ruppert
 - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.
  • FM Einheit, Einstürzende Neubauten, Zeche Bochum 1984, Foto: Richard Gleim - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.


At the Dresden Albertinum, this alternative music and art scene of the 1980s in the East and West is presented using photographs, videos, sound stations, magazines, posters, record and cassette covers, handmade instruments and stage props as well as selected paintings and graphic works from the time.


In West Germany, bands such as Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.), Einstürzende Neubauten, Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (F.S.K.), Mania D/Malaria!, Palais Schaumburg, Der Plan, Die Tödliche Doris took a deliberate step away from the English mainstream by using German names and lyrics. The pioneers of the scene founded independent record labels, magazines, galleries and clubs. Especially in the art colleges, the search for a new, at times shocking aesthetic gave shape to an emerging dynamic. In 1981, a festival took place in West Berlin’s Tempodrom, and its deliberately misspelled title became synonymous for this West German subculture of the early 1980s: “Geniale Dilletanten” or “Brilliant Dilletantes”.

  • Nach dem Konzert, SO36, Berlin, 1982, Foto: Anno Dittmer
 - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.
  • Die Gehirne, Cover der Musikcassette, Ihre großen Erfolge 1983-85, Compilation, hg. im Selbstverlag, 1986, Foto: Florian Merkel  - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.


In East Germany, blurring the boundaries between the visual arts and sound production, text, Super-8 film, performance and theatre had been part of the strategy of anti-establishment artists since the 1970s, who were working to oppose the regulation of the East German state and the artists’ association. Bands and artist groups such as AG Geige, Ornament und Verbrechen, Zwitschermaschine, 37,2, Pfff..., Rennbahnband, Kartoffelschälmaschine, Die Gehirne and Die Strafe pursued their practice of radical norm-breaking in a spectrum of sound ranging from free jazz to punk jazz, freestyle, noise, punk and electronic Neue Deutsche Welle.

Artists such as A. R. Penck and the group Lücke frequentor, Helge Leiberg, Klaus Hähner-Springmühl, Cornelia Schleime, Ralf Kerbach, Christine Schlegel, the Dresden Autoperforationsartisten and Moritz Götze provoked audiences and functionaries alike both artistically and “musically” with wild gestures and infernal performances, but also with subtle inner-artistic exploration. The two-day festival Intermedia I in Coswig near Dresden was of ground-breaking significance in the search for artistic freedom in East Germany: Early in June of 1985, painters, musicians from the free jazz and punk scene, Super-8 filmmakers, performers and dancers offered their art for more than a thousand visitors. In a film made for the exhibition by Thomas Claus, this event is documented in detail for the first time.

Idea and concept "Geniale Dilletanten. Subculture in Germany in the 1980s": Mathilde Weh and Leonhard Emmerling
Idea for the east extension: Hilke Wagner and Mathias Wagner
Curators: Mathilde Weh (West), Christoph Tannert (East) and Mathias Wagner (coordination)