This wide-ranging, thematic exhibition is an example of the kind of conceptual survey that Stephanie Rosenthal, the director of the Martin-Gropius-Bau since February 2018, says she plans more of. But there is a danger of becoming diffuse and unfocused with such breadth. Bergemann’s photographs, positioned intermittently throughout, help to give the show a discreet orientation. Many of her images explore disparate worlds colliding in the upheaval of post–Cold War Berlin; a wholesome cowboy on a poster advertising cigarettes, for instance, next to an amputated section of the wall in a desolate, concrete cityscape that could not be further from the Wild West.
The cowboy poster, staked like a flag claiming newly conquered territory, could symbolize the victory of Western capitalism and liberalism. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the big ideological conflict of the late 20th century seemed to many to be resolved in 1989. Thomas Oberender, the managing director of the Berliner Festspiele, which oversees the Martin-Gropius-Bau, reminded journalists at the exhibition opening that Francis Fukuyama, an American expert in international relations, even raised the prospect of “the end of history.”