Harald Szeemann

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Harald Szeemann (2001)

Harald Szeemann (11 June 1933 – 18 February 2005) was a Swiss curator and art historian. Having curated more than 200 exhibitions,[1] many of which have been characterized as groundbreaking, Szeemann is said to have helped redefined the role of an art curator.[2]

Personal Life[edit]

Szeemann was born in Bern, Switzerland. He studied art history, archaeology and journalism in Bern and Paris, and in 1956 he began working as an actor, stage designer and painter,[3] as well as doing one-man shows. He was married twice, the second time to artist Ingeborg Lüscher. Their daughter is Una Szeemann. He has two children from his prior marriage: a son, Jerome, of Basel, Switzerland; and a daughter, Valerie, of Paris. Szeemann died in 2005 at the age of 71 in the Ticino region of Switzerland.[2]

Curatorial Career[edit]

Szeemann began organizing exhibitions in Switzerland in 1957, and in 1961 he was appointed as director of the Kunsthalle Bern.[4] There he organised an exhibition of works by the "mentally ill" from the collection of the art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn in 1963, and in 1968 gave Christo and Jeanne-Claude their first opportunity to wrap an entire building: the Kunsthalle itself.[5] The Kunsthalle Bern is also where Szeemann mounted his "radical" landmark 1969 exhibition "Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form"[6] which caused such a reaction that it prompted his resignation as Kunsthalle director.[7]

After leaving the Kunsthalle he founded the "Museum of Obsessions"[8] and the Agentur für Geistige Gastarbeit ("Agency for Spiritual Migrant Work"). In 1972 he was the youngest artistic director at documenta 5 in Kassel.[3] He revolutionised the concept: conceived as a hundred-day event, he invited the artists to present not only paintings and sculptures, but also performances and "happenings" as well as photography. For the 1980 Venice Biennale, he and Achille Bonito Oliva co-created the "Aperto", a new section in the Biennale for young artists.[9] He was later selected as the Biennale director for both 1999 and 2001. This marked him as the first to curate both documenta and the Biennale.[10] Until 2014, he was the only curator who had this distinction, which since the 2015 Venice Biennale is now shared with Okwui Enwezor.

From 1981 to 1991, Szeemann was a "permanent freelance curator" at the Kunsthaus Zürich.[11] During this time, he also curated for other institutions including the Deichtorhallen Hamburg for its inaugural exhibition "Einleuchten: Will, Vorstel Und Simul In HH."[12] In 1982 Szeemann commissioned a three-dimensional reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters's Hannover Merzbau (as photographed in 1933) for the exhibition "Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk" in Zürich the following year. It was built by the Swiss stage designer Peter Bissegger and is now on permanent display in the Sprengel Museum in Hanover.

Early Exhibitions[edit]


  • 03.08 – 20.10
    • Kunstmuseum, St Gallen
    • Malende Dichter – Dichtende Maler
  • 24.09 – 27.09
    • Kleintheater Kramgasse 6, Bern
    • Hugo Ball (1886-1927): Manusckripte, Photographien, Bücher
  • (Bern – Zürich: 4.11.1957)
  • Club Bel Etage, Zürich


  • 08.07 -03.09
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Otto Tschumi
  • (Bern – Glarus)
  • Kunsthaus, Glarus
  • 02.09 – 24. 09
    • Städtische Galerie, Biel
    • Buri, Gürtler, Iseli, Luginbühl, Meister, Spescha, Schaffner
  • 09.09 -15.10
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Hans Aeschbacher: Skulpturen und Zeichnungen
  • 21.10 – 26.11
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Prähistorisch Felsbilder der Sahara: Expedition Henri Lhote im Gebiet Tassili-n-Ajjer


  • 17.02-11.03
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Puppen-Marionetten-Schattenspiel: Asiatica und Experimente
  • 17.03-23.04
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Charles Lapicque
  • (Bern-München-Grenoble-Le Havre)
  • Städtisch Galeri im Lenbachhau, München/ Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble/Maison de la Culture, Le Havre
  • 28.04-27.05
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Lenz Klotz, Friedrich Kuhn, Bruno Müller, Matias Spescha
  • 02.06-01.07
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Walter Kurt Wiemken
  • (Bern – St Gallen)
  • Kunstmuseum St Gallen
  • 07.07-02.09
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Francis Picabia (1879-1953): Werke von 1909 bis 1924
  • (Marseille-Bern)
    • 4 Amerikaner: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Raushenber,
    • Richard Stankiewicz
  • (Stockholm-Amsterdam-Bern)
  • Moderna Museet, Stockholm/Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • 13.10-25.11
    • Städtische Galerie, Biel
    • Harry Kramer: Automobile Skulpturen-Marionetten-Filme
  • 20.10-25.11
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Kunst aus Tibet


  • 16.02-24.03
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Auguste Herbin (1882-1960)
  • (Bern-Amsterdam)
  • Stedlijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • 20.04-19.05
    • Städtische Galerie, Biel
    • Englebert van Anderlecht, Bram Bogart
  • (Bern-Bruxelles)
  • Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles
  • 04.05-03.06
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Alan Davie
  • (Baden-Baden – Bern – Darmstadt – London – Amsterdam)
  • Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden
    • Piotr Kowalski
  • 12.07-18.08
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • William Scott
  • (Bern-Belfast)
  • Ulster Museum, Belfast
    • Victor Pasmore
  • 18.08-15.09
    • Städtische Galerie, Biel
    • Heinz-Peter Kohler, Gregory Masurovsky
  • 24.08-15.09
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Bildnerei der Geisteskranken-Art Brut- Insania pingens
  • 21.09-27.10
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Louis Moillet
  • 02.11-01.12
    • Kunsthalle, Bern
    • Etienne-Martin
  • (Bern-Amsterdam – Eindhoven)
  • Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam/Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven


Other work[edit]

Juries for art awards

2000: Contemporary Chinese Art Award[14]

2002: The Walters Prize[15]

2002: The Vincent Award[16]

Memberships and Boards

1961-2005: Collège de 'Pataphysique' (artist group)[citation needed]

1967-?: Founding member, International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT)[17]

1996: Szeemann played a key role in shaping the architecture faculty at the Università della Svizzera italiana, the first university in Italian Switzerland, for the first six years after its founding.[citation needed]

1997-2005: Department of Visual Arts, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany[18]

Awards Received[edit]

1998: Award for Curatorial Excellence, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College[19]

2000: Max Beckmann Prize[20]

2005: Das Glas der Vernunft[21]

Archive and Library[edit]

In June 2011, the Getty Research Institute announced the acquisition of the The Harald Szeemann Archive and Library, probably one of the most important research collection for Art (especially for Modern and Contemporary Art) worldwide.[22] Szeemann constituted his archive and library during his whole lifetime, it contains thousands of documents related to his practice as an art historian, art critic and curator.


Szeemann invented the modern-day Großausstellung ("great exhibition"), in which the artworks are tied to a central concept and are assembled into new and often surprising interrelationships. His over 200 exhibitions were distinguished by a great abundance of material and a broad range of themes. Important reference points were subversiveness, alternative lifestyles (for example Monte Verità), and the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total artwork", Wagner's concept of a work which spans all the arts, to which his own exhibitions were also indebted).


  1. ^ Cascone, Sarah. "Getty Research Institute Makes Its Largest-Ever Acquisition". Art in America. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Smith, Roberta (Feb 25, 2005). "Harald Szeemann, 71, Curator of Groundbreaking shows.". New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Biographical / Historical Note, Harald Szeemann papers". The Getty Research Institute. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Interview mit Harald Szeemann by Felicia Herrschaft. (In German.)
  5. ^ Wrapped Kunsthalle From the website of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
  6. ^ Cotter, Holland (Aug 13, 2013). "Art’s Future Meets Its Past". New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Barker, Barry (2010). "Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form". Flash Art 43 (275): 52–54. 
  8. ^ Mind over matter ArtForum. Interview by Hans-Ulrich Obrist.
  9. ^ "The 1980s". La Biennale di Venezia. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  10. ^ Okeke-Agulu, Chika. "Interview with Okwui Enwezor, Director of the 56th Venice Biennale". Huffington Post. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  11. ^ Obrist, Hans-Ulrich (1996). "Mind over matter". Artforum 35 (3): 74–9, 111–12, 119–125. 
  12. ^ "Archiv: 1989-1994". Deichtorhallen Hamburg. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  13. ^ Derieux, Florence, and François Aubart. Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology. Zurich: JRP Ringier Kunstverlag Ag, 2007. 198-201.
  14. ^ "Harald Szeemann Talks to Chinese Artists about Venice, CCAA, and Curatorial Strategies (2001)". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  15. ^ "The Walters Prize 2002". Auckland Art Gallery. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  16. ^ "Edition 2002". The Vincent van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  17. ^ "Master thesis of Stephanie Seidel". International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  18. ^ "Harald Szeemann". Akademie der Künste. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  19. ^ "Harald Szeemann: 1998". Center for Curatorial Studies. Bard College. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "Max-Beckmann-Prize". Das KulturPortal. Stadt Frankfurt am Main. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  21. ^ "Glas der Vernunft". Rathaus Info. Kassel. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  22. ^ Boehm, Mike. "Getty gets NEH grant to organize huge contemporary art archive". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

"A Closer Look: Being Harald Szeemann" on YouTube


This article incorporates information from this version of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.