In 1982, Jonathan Borofsky debuted his Zeitgeist exhibition in West Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau, a renovated museum located only a few steps from the Berlin Wall. Borofsky’s installation confronted the legacies of conflict surrounding the gallery, which was adjacent to the former S.S. and Gestapo headquarters, a site years later excavated as the Topography of Terror. In addition to previously conceived works, Borofsky painted a monumental figure on the Wall outside the gallery. Working directly on the Berlin Wall, he became one of the first well-known artists from outside Germany to treat the border as a canvas. With Running Man, Borofsky compels viewers to imagine his signature figure in motion, even though the runner’s posture indicates no clear direction other than stalking the border. Borofsky’s roving figure resembles theorist Walter Benjamin’s notion of the angel of history, epitomized by a gaze fixated backward and a body primed for forward movement, who perceives the duality of destruction and progress in either direction.
While in Berlin, Borofsky also documented his dreams and created additional artworks about them, which, like his art, dealt with images of the Nazi period and the Cold War. He explains his piece, titled Berlin Dream, in an accompanying statement: “I had a dream when I was living and working in West Berlin—near the Berlin Wall. I dreamed a dog found its way into a garden of birds because the fence was broken. It picked up one of the birds in its mouth. Later, when I was awake, the memory of this dream fragment led me to thoughts about freedom and aggression, fear of ‘the enemy’ and the need for personal space.” Years later, Borofsky was invited back to Berlin for a post-reunification commission: the iconic Molecule Man, a 30-meter-tall sculpture situated on the Spree River, a former dividing line of the city. Borofsky adds, “In all of my work, I seek to convey the feeling that we are all connected.”