Harald Szeemann (11 June 1933 – 18 February 2005) was a Swiss curator and artist and art historian. Having curated more than 200 exhibitions, many of which have been characterized as groundbreaking, Szeemann is said to have helped redefine the role of an art curator.It is believed that Szeemann elevated curating to a legitimate art-form itself.
Szeemann began organizing exhibitions in Switzerland in 1957, and in 1961 he was appointed as director of the Kunsthalle Bern at the age of 28. Despite being a somewhat “provincial institution” at the time Szeemann managed to open a new exhibition every month, often with young and promising artists.
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. The Kunsthalle Bern is also where Szeemann mounted his “radical” landmark 1969 exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Formwhich caused such a reaction that it prompted his resignation as Kunsthalle director.
For decades Szeemann worked out of a studio, which he referred to as “The Factory,” in the Swiss village Tegna, where he conceived international exhibitions and experimented with traditional museological practices. 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 revolutionized 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. The show had various sections named “Artist’s Museum” or “Individual Mythologies”. In an interview in June 2001, he explained: “All the former Documentas followed the old-hat, thesis/antithesis dialectic: Constructivism/Surrealism, Pop/Minimalism, Realism/Concept. That’s why I invented the term, ‘individual mythologies'—not a style, but a human right. An artist could be a geometric painter or a gestural artist; each can live his or her own mythology. Style is no longer the important issue.” Artists of individual mythology are among others Armand Schulthess, Jürgen Brodwolf, Michael Buthe, James Lee Byars, the musician La Monte Young, Etienne Martin, Panamarenko, Paul Thek, Marian Zazeela, Horst Gläsker or Heather Sheehan.
For the 1980 Venice Biennale, he and Achille Bonito Oliva co-created the “Aperto”, a new section in the Biennale for young artists. 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. 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. During this time, he also curated for other institutions including the Deichtorhallen Hamburg for its inaugural exhibition “Einleuchten: Will, Vorstel Und Simul In HH.” In 1982 he 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.
—Excerpt from Wikipedia