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Harald Szeemann papers, 1800-2011, bulk 1949-2005

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Descriptive Summary
Biographical / Historical Note
Scope and Content of Collection
Indexing Terms
Related Material
Administrative Information
Container List
Series I. Project files, 1836-2007, bulk 1949-2005
Series II. Artist files 1888-2009, bulk 1969-2005
Series III. Curator and museum professional files, 1903, 1942, 1955-2007
Series III.A. Curator files, 1903, 1942, 1955-2007
Series III.B. Correspondence binders, 1973-1998
Series III.C. Unfiled materials, 1958-2007
Series IV. Photographs, 1800, 1836-2011, bulk 1957-2005
Series IV.A. Projects, 1895-2007
Series IV.B. Artists, 1892-2007, bulk 1960-1999
Series IV.C. Margarethe Fellerer photographs of Monte Verità, 1904-1979, undated
Series IV.D. Topical, 1900-2004
Series IV.E. Slide carousels, 1997, undated
Series IV.F. Personal, approximately 1880-2004
Series V. Audiovisual files, 1926-2005, undated, bulk 1983-2005
Series V.A. Project files, 1969-2005, undated, bulk 1983-2005
Series V.B. Artist files, 1926, 1950-1956, 1965-2005, undated
Series V.C. Curator and museum professional files, 1989-2005, undated
Series V.D. Topical files, 1956, 1960, 1965-1972, 1984-2004, undated
Series V.E. Gallery and museum ephemera, 1995-2005, undated
Series V.F. Personal files, 1996-2005
Series V.G. Unidentified, undated
Series VI. Topical files, 1806-2005, bulk 1967-2005
Series VI.A. Arts and letters, 1905-2005, bulk 1956-2005
Series VI.B. Clippings and assorted research materials, approximately 1969-2005
Series VI.C. People and organizations, 1967-2004, undated
Series VI.D. Places, 1851-2004, undated
Series VI.E. Politics, environment, and society, 1905-2004, undated
Series VI.F. Professional associations, 1961-2005, undated
Series VI.G. Themes, 1912-2004, undated
Series VI.H. Unfiled materials, 1806, 1924-1929, 1948-1958, 1967-2004, undated
Series VII. Gallery and museum ephemera, 1915, 1937, 1953-2007, undated
Series VII.A. Galleries, 1953-2007, undated
Series VII.B. Museums, 1915, 1937, 1954, 1960-2007, undated
Series VII.C. General, 2004-2005
Series VIII. Personal files, 1800, 1933-2007, undated
Series VIII.A. Individuals, 1800, 1933-2007, undated
Series VIII.B. Objects, 1997, 2000, undated
Series IX. Business files, 1923-2011, bulk 1974-2004
Series IX.A. Receipts and bank documents, 1968-2006
Series IX.B. Taxes and balances, 1969-2004
Series IX.C. Miscellaneous business, 1923-2004, 2011, bulk 1974-2004
Series X. Digital files, approximately 2001-approximately 2006
Szeemann (Harald) Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

Among the most influential art curators of his generation, Harald Szeemann (Swiss, 1933-2005) organized more than 150 exhibitions during a career that spanned almost five decades. Szeemann studied art history, archaeology and journalism in Bern and Paris and had a brief, but successful, theatrical career before he organized his first exhibition in 1957. In 1961 he became one of the youngest museum directors in the world when he was appointed to head the Kunsthalle Bern. From 1961 to 1966, Szeemann was also in charge of the exhibition program at the Städtische Galerie Biel. Szeemann gained prominence through a lively and experimental series of exhibitions that included early projects with Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Christo. In addition to showcasing current developments in contemporary art such as kinetic art, op art, and happenings, Szeemann also examined areas of early twentieth-century modernism such as Dada and surrealism, including artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Kazimir Malevich, and Vassily Kandinsky, as well as various fields of visual culture such as Art Brut, science fiction and religious iconography.

Following his 1969 exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, a sprawling and controversial international survey of postminimalism, conceptual art, and Arte Povera, Szeemann left the Kunsthalle Bern to become an independent curator. Calling his business the Agentur für geistige Gastarbeit, or Agency for Spiritual Guest-Labor, a one-man enterprise relying on a group of independent partners, Szeemann developed a new form of exhibition-making that centered on close collaborative relationships with artists and a sweeping global vision of contemporary visual culture, aided by a pioneering vision of fundraising. Because he traveled extensively and frequently, he was able to integrate emerging developments from disparate parts of the world into exhibitions that became touchstones of their time.

Taking on the organization of documenta 5 in 1972, Szeemann transformed the exhibition into a vast and dynamic survey of young artists from across the world. Likewise, when asked to co-direct the Venice Biennale in 1980, the curator introduced a new concept that became a mainstay of the Biennale: the "Aperto," an international and multigenerational group exhibition that contrasted with the Biennale's traditional focus on national representations. He continued to survey art-making from all parts of the world in the biennials he later organized in Lyon, Seville, and Gwangju, as well as when he returned to the Venice Biennale in both 1999 and 2001. Szeemann often tackled enormous themes that cut across regions and spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a stunningly original approach, as in his trilogy of exhibitions The Bachelor Machines (1975), Monte Verità: The breasts of truth (1978), and Tendency towards the Gesamtkunstwerk (1983). Exhibitions focused on topics such as utopia, disaster, and the "Plateau of Humankind" offered sweeping and provocative surveys, while exhibitions such as Visionary Switzerland (1991), Austria in a Net of Roses (1996), Blood and Honey: the Future Lies in the Balkans (2003) and La Belgique Visionnaire België: C'est arrivé près de chez nous (2005) aimed at examining narrower topics and regions in interdisciplinary depth. Szeemann was also active on a local level in Ticino, Switzerland, where he organized several exhibitions and worked on various museum projects, among which Casa Anatta on Monte Verità, devoted to the history of the early 20th-century colony of anarchists, artists and life reformers, is to be counted among his greatest achievements.

During his collaboration with Kunsthaus Zürich (1981-2000), Szeemann became known for producing definitive solo exhibitions, not only on contemporary artists such as Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, and Bruce Nauman, but on such cultural icons as Charles Baudelaire, Alfred Jarry and Egon Schiele. Szeemann's mid-1980s contemporary sculpture group exhibitions included Traces, Sculptures and Monuments of Their Precise Journey (1985) and De Sculptura (1986). He referred to them as "poems in space," and investigated the "breathing space" between artworks and within the exhibition venue. From the late 1980s onward, he often embarked on large-scale projects set in historical buildings including Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, Halle Tony Garnier in Lyon, and the Arsenale in Venice. It was the first time these locations hosted contemporary art exhibitions.

Even when collaborating with large institutions, Szeemann relied on the same team of independent partners for the technical aspects, believing that "only tribes survive." Long-term friends and coworkers included his wife Ingeborg Lüscher, an artist; daughter Una Szeemann, also an artist; son Jérôme Szeemann, who was in charge of installation; architect Christoph Zürcher; model designer Peter Bissegger; and Josy Kraft, who was in charge of transportation and storage.

Szeemann's parents were Julie Szeemann-Kambly (1907-2005) and Étienne Ernst Szeemann (1904-1958), and his younger brother was Rolf Szeemann (1935-1994). His father worked in a salon owned by Szeemann's grandfather, Étienne Szeemann (1873-1971), a successful hair stylist during the early 20th century, who was the subject of Szeemann's exhibition Grandfather - a pioneer like us. Szeemann married twice, the first time to Françoise Bonnefoy (1934-) in 1959. He has three children: Jérôme (1959-) and Valérie (1964-) from his first marriage, and Una (1975-) with Lüscher.

Szeemann began his personal archive in the late 1960s when, leaving the Kunsthalle Bern, he decided to take a substantial part of the documentation for his exhibitions with him. The archive grew significantly over the decades. Szeemann kept all documents and research material related to his projects, including all correspondence sent or received. The archive is not only a resource for the study of Szeemann's exhibitions, activities and interests, but is also an invaluable trove of rare gallery and museum ephemera such as invitation cards, press releases and posters from the 1960s to the 2000s. In the mid-1980s Szeemann permanently housed the entire archive in a former watch factory in the village of Maggia, in Ticino, which Szeemann called the "Fabbrica Rosa" or "Pink Factory." Previously it had been scattered between his homes in Ticino, Bern, and Civitanova Marche.

The result of almost 50 years of professional activity, the archive can be considered one of Szeemann's main achievements. Both a physical office and a tool for retrieving information, it functioned also as an instrument of self-representation, ranging from his high school years and theatrical experiments to his "Museum of Obsessions." The archive also afforded Szeemann the opportunity to personally write and partially rectify the history of his own professional life, and it is possible to trace examples of concealment through intentional "misfiling" of exhibitions he felt were unsatisfactory. The importance the Fabbrica Rosa played in the Szeemann's understanding of his own career is demonstrated by the fact that Szeemann had planned to retire from exhibition-making in 2006 and focus all of his energies on reordering this archive. Unfortunately he died unexpectedly in 2005 at the age of 71 before realizing his plan.

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