12 Dec Harald Szeemann: the dazzle of constant art
“There is an age in which what is known is taught, but there is another age in which what is not known is taught: that is what research is called” – Roland Barthes-
I met Harald Szeemann (Bern, 1933-Canton of Ticino, Switzerland, 2005) in 1999 in Venice, just as he was preparing the 49th edition of the Venice Biennale, I made a long interview there (which I published at the time), and from that moment on In the instant we worked on an exchange of correspondence, ideas and concepts of “contemporary” art, the erosion of the role of the curator, and the power of the latter at the beginning of the 21st century. His hasty death, unexpected for his friends, has left a great void within the international contemporary art scene. Atypical curator, visceral narrator, visionary, traveler, rebel, tireless discoverer of talents and cornerstone of key creators of twentieth century art such as Morandi, Richard Serra, Joseph Beuys or key movements such as Arte Povera, are examples of his open and explosive with the most critical and radical currents of the twentieth century was always a difficult character, emblematic, but always committed to its historical and social context. His first exhibition: When Attitudes Become Form was revolutionary, it took place in 1969 at the Kunsthalle in Bern. The exhibition was an expository milestone for North American post-minimalist artists. With this exhibition, I frame a new way of understanding the exhibition and the role of the curator. It can be said Szeemann continued with the legacy of Alexander Dorner, director of the Museum of Hannover, in northern Germany (twenties). Dorner managed to define some museum functions that still remain valid today and that Szeemann taught us in a masterly way:
-The exhibition is a state of permanent transformation. -The exhibition as something oscillating between the object and the process, affirming that “the notion of process has penetrated our system of certainties”. -Exhibition of multiple identities. -The exhibition as something pioneering, active and that nothing is saved.
-The exhibition as relative truth.
-The exhibition based on a dynamic conception of the history of art. -The “elastic” exhibition: flexible presentations in an adaptable building. -The exhibition as a bridge between artists and the various scientific disciplines.
The great Roland Barthes said that “there is an age in which what is known is taught, but there comes another age in which what is not known is taught: that is what research calls”. And Szeemann knew how to apply it brilliantly, by discovering that we could work as a “permanent freelance curator”. An unforgettable lesson And that Hans Ulrich Obrist reminds us correctly: “this concept that arises in the places where it works as a laboratory, implies a different attitude towards memory: the exhibition, the art and its archive are thus interwoven in a “Estudio-archivo”, a term used by Szeemann to designate the factory he created in the Swiss town of Tegna, where he worked until his death in 2005. ” 1
On the directions and changes of twentieth century art, I confessed, after traveling together the Venice Biennial in 2001: “After many years of change, can there be a revolution? I do not know … The 60s were a time in which, after World War II, the economy marched into a crazy spiral. Today something new must be found, maybe around that great globalization a response arises. I would like to see how you can react now to this. In the 1960s it was interesting to see how artists thought, so the place art occupied was important. Now you also notice some of this, but much less. I refer to the generous benefits of art, art in its daily context … “.
Szeemann leaves us a legacy with countless exhibitions and important visual projects to understand the art of the 20th century. He directed his first exhibition in 1957, in Switzerland, under the title Painters Poets / Poets painters, and in 1961 he was appointed director of the Kunsthalle in Bern, and where he coined the motto “live in your head”, which time later I forget. His fame was consolidated at the beginning of the 70s, when he was artistic director of Documenta 5 of Kaseel, Germany, in which he invited artists to present not only paintings and sculpture, but also performances and happenings, marking with it the beginning of tendencies that would dominate the world artistic panorama for more than a decade. Point of origin and end of multiple things. Afterwards, he was director for several years of the art museum in Zurich, curator of the Lyon Biennial in 1997, and of the Venice Biennial in its 1999 and 2001 editions, where he created the famous section “Aperto”, created for emerging artists and renovators. And on this one, his last Biennial of Venice said: “To this last edition I have called it Platea della umanitá. But it is not a set of images and fiction but a stage of life. The Biennial is a receptacle for the audience of humanity. It is not a theme, it is, again, a dimension – one of the concepts coined by Szeemann in this one of the dimension: work and space are the same thing and if the work changes its original sense is also transformed “. His work as a curator allowed him to develop the notion of thematic exhibitions, where they discussed various moments of art, to create a level of coherence as a whole.
Szeemann focused in a special way on German and Spanish art. In October 2003, he organized the exhibition The Royal Royal Trip .. bay the Arts at the PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, a branch of the MOMA, where he brought together 19 Spanish and Latin American artists. Also curator of the great retrospectives of two of his favorite artists: Cy Tombly (Palacio Velázquez, 1986) and Josep Beuys (Reina Sofía, 1993), etc. The last works that I saw him in 2005 were the excellent exhibition entitled The beauty of failure, the failure of beauty, which was exhibited at the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona, and the other, was the creation of the 1 Bienal de Sevilla, which he called The Joy of My Dreams, in which he gathered works by 120 artists. On the role of curator or art curator, he told me: “The curator must be flexible. Sometimes it acts as a server; others, of assistant; sometimes offers artists ideas about how to present their work; he is coordinator in the collective exhibitions and inventor in the themes. But, in the curating, what really matters is doing things with enthusiasm, with love, and something obsessively. ”
Harald will be remembered as an excellent friend and teacher, an essential figure of contemporary art, and a creator of endless images, a visionary of the artistic phenomenon, who in moments made him a discussed, generous and unrepeatable character. I think it will take many years to forget his work as a curator, because it will endure for his successes, not for his sins that are many, because he always left his freedom and creativity free for the good of great art.
1 Hans Ulrich Obrist, When Attitudes Become Form de Harald Szeemann. Suplemento El Cultural Periódico El Mundo 16/10/2009. Madrid, España