Har­ald Szee­mann. Mu­se­um of Ob­ses­sions; Har­ald Szee­mann. Grand­fa­ther: A Pi­o­neer Like Us

13.10.2018 - 20.01.2019

[Detail. For a full view, click on the picture] Installationsaufnahmen der Ausstellung „Harald Szeemann. Grossvater: Ein Pionier wie wir“ in der Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2018 Foto: Katja Illner

Har­ald Szee­mann. Mu­se­um of Ob­ses­sions
Har­ald Szee­mann. Grand­fa­ther: A Pi­o­neer Like Us

Two ex­hi­bi­tions about an ex­hi­bi­tion or­ga­niz­er are un­usu­al and as ex­trav­a­gant as their top­ic, the leg­end Har­ald Szee­mann. A na­tive of Switzer­land, Szee­mann re­al­ized ex­per­i­men­tal ex­hi­bi­tions that broke with the con­ven­tions of the time. Through this work, and through his id­iosyn­crat­ic self-im­age as an ex­hi­bi­tion or­ga­niz­er as well as his man­ner of work­ing with artists, he had a last­ing im­pact on our un­der­stand­ing of the role of the cu­ra­tor.

This wide-rang­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of­fers in­sight in­to the life and work of Har­ald Szee­mann and shows the com­plex­i­ty of his themes, in­ter­ests, and de­vel­op­ments us­ing archival doc­u­ments as well as art­works and films.

Har­ald Szee­mann was born in 1933 in Bern. Dur­ing his time as di­rec­tor of the Kun­sthalle Bern from 1961 to 1969 and then as a free­lance cu­ra­tor at his “agen­cy for in­tel­lec­tu­al guest work” in Teg­na in Tessin, far from any in­sti­tu­tion­al con­straints, he cu­rat­ed some 200 ex­hi­bi­tions up un­til his death in 2005. His of­fice was at the Fab­bri­ca Rosa in Mag­gia; there, across some 2,700 square me­ters of space, he archived ma­te­ri­als from his work and re­search for his rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­jects. Af­ter all, in ad­di­tion to cu­rat­ing, col­lect­ing and doc­u­ment­ing were al­so pas­sions of his.

In 2011, the Get­ty Re­search In­sti­tute in Los An­ge­les ac­quired the vast es­tate of the ex­hi­bi­tion or­ga­niz­er and ob­ses­sive col­lec­tor. Over the course of sev­en years, a team of sev­er­al peo­ple pro­cessed Szee­mann’s col­lec­tion, span­ning some 600 me­ters of shelves of het­ero­ge­neous ma­te­ri­als from his home, and thus raised new ques­tions not on­ly on the his­to­ry of cu­rat­ing and the role of the cu­ra­tor. The re­search on the es­tate al­so took place dur­ing a pe­ri­od in which the dig­i­ti­za­tion of archives from the 1968 protest move­ment made the art-his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive and con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion of usu­al­ly ephemer­al lega­cies of rad­i­cal artist utopias an ur­gent pri­or­i­ty.

doc­u­men­ta, which has tak­en place in Kas­sel since 1955, quick­ly be­came a leg­endary, glob­al art ex­hi­bi­tion. But it was on­ly af­ter 1972, when Har­ald Szee­mann or­ga­nized doc­u­men­ta 5, that it achieved myth­i­cal sta­tus. Szee­mann is one of the most im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tion or­ga­niz­ers in re­cent his­to­ry and is cel­e­brat­ed for his pi­o­neer­ing ex­hi­bi­tions. This is true in par­tic­u­lar of the ex­hi­bi­tions from 1961 to 1969 which he cu­rat­ed as di­rec­tor of the Kun­sthalle Bern, such as Live in Your Head: When At­ti­tudes Be­come Form (1969) as well as doc­u­men­ta 5 in 1972 in Kas­sel and many oth­ers, in­clud­ing Jungge­sel­len­maschi­nen (1975) and Hang zum Gesamtkunst­werk (1983).

With the aim of pre­sent­ing the cu­ra­tor’s work to a large au­di­ence for the first time, the Get­ty Re­search In­sti­tute showed two re­lat­ed ex­hi­bi­tions in Los An­ge­les in Febru­ary 2018: Har­ald Szee­mann: Mu­se­um of Ob­ses­sions and a re­con­struc­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion in his apart­ment in Bern, Grand­fa­ther: A Pi­o­neer Like Us (1974), one of Szee­mann’s most per­son­al but al­so most rad­i­cal ex­hi­bi­tions. Af­ter doc­u­men­ta 5, in Grand­fa­ther Szee­mann fo­cused on his grand­fa­ther Eti­enne Szee­mann (1873–1971), who did pi­o­neer­ing work in the hair­dress­ing in­dus­try. Har­ald Szee­mann staged this fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in his apart­ment in Bern. The re­con­struct­ed ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing nu­mer­ous orig­i­nal works will be shown in Bern from 9 June to 2 Septem­ber 2018 in the same place, while the Kun­sthalle Bern will pre­sent the show Mu­se­um of Ob­ses­sions dur­ing the same pe­ri­od.

These two ex­hi­bi­tions, pre­sent­ed to­geth­er for the first time at the Kun­sthalle Düssel­dorf, of­fer a mul­ti­faceted look at Har­ald Szee­mann’s uni­verse. Af­ter the Kun­sthalle Düssel­dorf, the ex­hi­bi­tion will trav­el to the Castel­lo di Rivoli near Turin and the Swiss In­sti­tute in New York.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is cu­rat­ed by Glenn Phillips and Philipp Kaiser with Doris Chon and Pietro Rigo­lo in Düssel­dorf in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gre­gor Jansen. The ex­hi­bi­tion cat­a­log was pub­lished by Schei­deg­ger &Spiess in Switzer­land (avail­able at the Kun­sthalle Düssel­dorf for €48).

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