March 4, 2005 - International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) - Harald Szeemann 1933 – 2005
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March 4, 2005

Harald Szeemann 1933 – 2005

Harald Szeemann
1933 – 2005

It is with sharp emotion and great sadness that we learned of the death of Harald Szeemann. We had the highest esteem and consideration for his personality and of his very important contribution to the contemporary art field in the last 40 years. It is a great loss for the international artistic community. All the profession carried a great regard for his work.

Born in Bern, Switzerland, in 1933, Mr. Szeemann studied art history, archaeology and journalism at the University of Bern. By 1961 he was head of the Kunthalle Bern. Harald Szeemann forged his reputation there by transforming a very provincial institution, dominated by local artists, making it a crossing point for the rising generation of European and American artists, organizing about a dozen exhibitions each year, including the wrapping of the Kunsthalle building by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1968. His groundbreaking 1968-69 “When attitudes become form,” included nearly 70 artists such as Eva Hesse, Walter de Maria, Joseph Beuys, and Richard Serra. After heavy criticism of his influential exhibition, in 1969 Szeemann quit the Kunsthalle to become a freelance curator. In 1969 he co-founded IKT, the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art. In 1970 he organized another large, even more improbable show, “Happenings and Fluxus,” at the Kunstverein in Cologne. In 1972 he was appointed as curator of the documenta 5 in Kassel and he introduced installation and performance oriented art to an even broader audiences.

After “Documenta 5,” Mr. Szeemann developed a nomadic mode of work. Then he created an imaginary museum, “the Museum of obsessions”, a concept from which he derived his programme. He organized “Bachelor Machines” for the Venice Biennale in 1975. In 1980, he was appointed as a co-commissioner of the biennale, and he created the first Aperto, or Open, exhibition, a cacophonous survey, held in a gigantic former rope factory, that ignored the national divisions of the biennale’s pavilions. In 1981 Mr. Szeemann became the independent curator at the Kunsthaus Zurich, and mounted shows of a dizzying mix of 19th- and 20th-century artists and writers, including Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Eugene Delacroix, James Ensor, Sigmar Polke, Cy Twombly and Richard Serra. His thematic exhibitions included “In Search of the Total Artwork, ” “Austria in a Lacework of Roses” and “Swiss Visionaries.” He continued to work independently, organizing the Lyon Biennale and the Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 1997 and serving as commissioner of the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. In 2003 he organized a survey of Spanish art at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens. The last exhibition that he curated, “Visionary Belgium”, will be inaugurated on March 4th at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.

An exceptional personality, man of spirit of a rare smoothness and professionalism without equal, he will remain forever in our memory.

M. Ami Barak
President of IKT

IKT/ International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art
Paris
mail@iktsite.org

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