Harald Szeemann


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Swiss curator, art historian, and critic. He is frequently credited with being the first to make a career of being an ‘independent curator’, unattached to any institution and using the curating of exhibitions as a creative form of criticism. In 1961 he was appointed director of the Berne Kunsthalle, where in 1968 he permitted Christo and Jeanne-Claude to achieve their first wrapping of a public building. In 1969 he staged the famous exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form: Live in your Head’ which brought together Conceptual, Process, and Minimal art: this subsequently travelled to London. Following the success of this event, Szeemann boldly resigned his post in Berne and became a freelance curator, a hitherto unknown profession. In this capacity he organized documenta 5 in 1972, probably still the most famous of this long-running series of exhibitions, and established a pattern, now common in the exhibition and criticism of contemporary art, of bringing artists together according to theme rather than nationality or style, a mode which, he admitted to an interviewer in 1994, eventually became a convention of its own to be resisted. He continued this pattern throughout his career, which included curating the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. The first of these was of special significance in that it introduced to the Western art world important new Chinese artists. His obituary by Marcia Vertrocq (Art in America, April 2005) describes him as ‘ever animated and open-minded’ and points out that ‘Szeemann's generous legacy includes no style name, no catchphrase, no “post”- or “neo”-anything that would corral or impede the unfolding of the new in art.’

Further Reading

J.-P. Bordaz, ‘Entretien’, in Centre Georges Pompidou, Hors Limites (1994)

Subjects: Art.

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