Harald Szeemann and the art of exhibition-making

Harald Szeemann and the art of exhibition-making

ON THE floor is a shadowy, Sixties-vogue phone. “If this phone rings, you would possibly perchance perchance well possibly solution it,” a demonstrate reads. “Walter De Maria is on the line and would cherish to chat to you.” This appealingly quirky piece of art, chosen for exhibition in 1969 by Harald Szeemann, does now no longer appear specifically routine by at the present time’s requirements. That is on yarn of most up-to-date contemporary art displays owe so remarkable to the Swiss curator, who died in 2005.

The landmark exhibitions of the outdated a hundred years—the foremost Impressionists sequence in 1874 or the Armory Demonstrate in 1913, the do Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” terrorized The usa—are remembered basically for their mutter material. Szeemann’s revolution became once to bag comprise most significant, and to introduce a theatrical factor to exhibition-making. Viewers modified into contributors in a spectacle the do artworks played off one but every other and the placement round them. He became once “cherish a movie director,” talked about Christo, whom Szeemann invited to wrap the Kunsthalle museum in Bern, Switzerland, in bolstered polyethylene in 1968 (pictured, above).

A self-described anarchist, with a sizeable ego and a courageous opt of art history, Szeemann became once appointed director of the Kunsthalle in 1961, at the gentle age of 28. Solutions had been what mattered. He travelled extensively to conception out new artists, embracing land art, performance art, video art and the solutions of Fluxus, an anti-art collective. He developed his displays in shut collaboration with artists.

It wasn’t till the halt of the decade—amid the anti-Vietnam war protests and waves of unrest sweeping Europe and The usa—that he in actuality hit his dart. In 1969 he curated “Stay in Your Head: When Attitudes Changed into Manufacture”, the exhibition for which he is healthier known (and which quickly led to his parting firm with the Kunsthalle). A demonstrate that, as its title suggests, situation out to supply ingenious comprise to the heady, insurrectionary temper of the time, it brought collectively American conceptual artists with Italian Arte Povera masters, De Maria and Joseph Beuys, a German maverick. With plaster chipped off partitions and pavements destroyed with wrecking balls, it became once an avant-garde exhibition no longer just like the leisure that had been confirmed in a museum before. 

The curator’s legacy is now no longer real regarded as one of radical exhibition-making: he left in the aid of a broad archive of 24,000 files on artists as well to an expansive library of books and photos in a aged look factory in Ticino, Switzerland. For the past seven years, the Getty Analysis Institute in Los Angeles has been imposing recount on this “structured chaos” (Szeemann’s own timeframe for his manner to curation). “The shock remains to be with me,” recalled Glenn Phillips, who led the mission. “In every cranny, there became once more.”

The work of Mr Phillips and his colleagues has spawned “Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions”, a charming exhibition about the curator’s existence and solutions, hosted at his normal stomping ground. The title refers to but every other of Szeemann’s phrases: he ancient “Museum of Obsessions” to list now no longer simply his archive and library, nonetheless exhibitions each and each realised and unrealised. Above all, he became once excited about the compulsion that drove other folks—artists who pioneered new kinds as well to other folks who didn’t uncover themselves as artists at all—to do.

Two displays take care of Szeemann’s involvement with radical artists in the Sixties and Seventies. Monitors demonstrate archive pictures from “When Attitudes Changed into Manufacture” and “Documenta 5”, the quinquennial demonstrate that Szeemann curated in 1972. He organised a a hundred-day tournament that blended pop and conceptual art with performance, outsider art and “non-art”. It aimed to “ask actuality”—and it proved highly controversial. “The present assumption is that culture is an outworn fiction,” wrote Hilton Kramer, a critic at the Contemporary York Times; the demonstrate became once an effort “to heed that art became once musty”. 

Movie of the exhibitions is offset by artists’ proposals, photos and correspondence. De Maria writes about his phone, pointing out that he generally calls it slow at evening, liking the muse of the cellphone “ringing in the palace at 4am”. What emerges is the shut relationship Szeemann solid with artists, even when they disagreed. He became once cheerful, as an illustration, when Daniel Buren complained that he had been reduced to a “brushstroke” in the curator’s “describe”: he replied by publishing Buren’s comments in a list.

It is miles going to have faith been dry and overwhelming nonetheless “Museum of Obsessions” captivates, involving between Szeemann as the archetype of the enviornment curator and Szeemann the actual person attuned to creativity in so a lot of diversified kinds. Following in the footsteps of regarded as one of his heroes, Marcel Duchamp, the auteur-curator opened up the definition of what art will be. In a suitably masterful piece of exhibition-making, the Getty team have faith highlighted the pride that Szeemann took in “the strangest and most honest appropriate creations that artists have faith devised”. Visitors will share that pride.

“Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions” is exhibiting at Kunsthalle Bern till September 2nd. This might perchance then commute to Düsseldorf, Turin and Contemporary York


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