Action Art at the IMF-World Bank Meetings, West Berlin, September 1988
In September 1988, the Office for Unusual Measures responded with a heavy dose of action art and poltiical activism during a week-long protest of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (IMF-WB) annual meetings being held in the city. Staged under the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Breitscheid Platz in West Berlin’s central tourist hub, their theatrical actions marked the most overt appearances of action art as activism to appear in West Berlin since the anti-authoritarian protests of the late 1960s.
Like the actions and happenings staged during the late 1960s, the IMF-WB actions centered around issues of global capitalism and its local reverberations in West Berlin. But in the late 1980s these protesters responded to the more recent rise of neoliberalism and economic globalization that contributed to the rising inequality and uneven development across the world.
As world banking and finance officials converged on the half city, both demonstrators and extra police units flooded in from other West German cities to lend a hand. A diverse collective of activist groups united for a week of demonstrations, marches, a theatrical tribunal, and an alternative congress—all in protest of the IMF-WB and the murderous consequences of global capitalism.
The Office for Unusual Measures’ actions at Breitscheid Platz featured actors dressed as bankers, wearing oversized suits with U.S. dollars spilling from their pockets and taped to their foreheads. A performance satirizing the greed of the bankers featured performers dancing around a larger than life paper maché golden cow. The demonstrators at Breitscheid Platz also held banners reading: “IMF=Meeting of Murderers,” suggesting the bankers and development workers attending the conference were responsible for the poverty and famine decimating both Third World populations and the world’s ecosystems. When local police tried to cancel the group’s permit to demonstrate at Breitscheid Platz, activists appealed to the Basic Law protection of artistic expression in defense of their actions, shouting: “Freedom for the arts!” They refused to relocate their actions.