Szeemann was born in Bern. He studied art history, archaeology and journalism in Bern and Paris, and in 1956 he began working as an actor, stage designer and painter, as well as doing one-man shows. He started creating exhibitions in 1957. From 1961 to 1969 he was curator of the Kunsthalle Bern. 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 the exhibition "When Attitudes Become Form" in 1969. In 1968 he gave Christo and Jeanne-Claude their first opportunity to package an entire building: the Kunsthalle.
After leaving the Kunsthalle he founded the "Museum of Obsessions" and the Agentur für Geistige Gastarbeit ("Agency for Spiritual Migrant Work"). In 1972 he was the youngest artistic director at documenta 5 in Kassel. 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. In 1980 he co-hosted the Venice Biennale, where he created the "Aperto" exhibition for young artists. He was later among the few to curate the Biennale twice, in 1999 and 2001.
From 1981 to 1991, he was the sole curator of the Kunsthaus Zürich. He also curated the international exhibition Einleuchten, the inaugural exhibition at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, in 1989. 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.
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 in 1996.
From 1961 until his death, Szeemann belonged to the artists' group "Collège de 'Pataphysique'", from 1997 he was a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, and in 2000 he was awarded the Max Beckmann Prize.
Archive and Library
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. 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).
- Hans-Joachim Muller, Harald Szeeman: Exhibition Maker, Hatje Cantz, 2006, ISBN 978-3-7757-1705-2
- Tobia Bezzola, Roman Kurzmeyer, Harald Szeemann: With, by, through, because, towards, despite, Springer Architecture, Vienna, 2007, ISBN 978-3-211836-32-3
- Florence Derieux, Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology, JRP-Ringier, Zurich, 2008, ISBN 978-3-905829-09-9
- This article incorporates information from