Biographical / Historical Note
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Harald Szeemann papers
Date (inclusive): 1800-2011, bulk 1949-2005
1925.2 linear feet
(3766 boxes, 448 flatfiles, 6 crates, 3 bins, 24 reels)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
Swiss art curator Harald Szeemann (1933-2005) organized more than 150 exhibitions during a career that spanned almost five
decades. An advocate of contemporary movements such as conceptualism, land art, happenings, Fluxus and performance, and of
artists such as Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly and Mario Merz, 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.
He organized vast international surveys such as
documenta 5; retrospectives of individual artists including Sigmar Polke, Bruce Nauman, Wolfgang Laib, James Ensor, and Eugène
Delacroix; and thematic exhibitions on such provocative topics as utopia, disaster, and the "Plateau of Humankind." Szeemann's
papers thoroughly document his curatorial practice, including preliminary notes for many projects, written descriptions and
proposals for exhibitions, installation sketches, photographic documentation, research files, and extensive correspondence
with colleagues, artists and collaborators.
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Language: Collection material is primarily in
German with some material in
English and other languages.
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
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
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
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.
Open for use by qualified researchers with the following exceptions. Unreformatted audiovisual materials, nitrate negatives
and computer files are unavailable. Boxes 81, 214, 224, 2409, 2418, RX and RX2 are sealed pending further review. Boxes 230-267
contain nitrate negatives and are restricted. Boxes 82, 215, and 1074B require special handling; contact the repository regarding
access. Box 2885A is restricted due to fragility; contact the repository regarding access. Boxes 1074C and 1074D are restricted
due to fragility; contact repository to request digital imaging. Boxes B-13**, B-16**, B-43**, B-48**, B-79**, B-81**, B-83**,
B-84**, B-86**, 3741**-3743**, 3765*-3767* and TP-drawers are housed off-site and only open for use with the curator's permission.
Contact repository regarding access. Boxes 320-321, 924, 2955-3028*, 2966**, 3716-3730, 3727*, 3748-3754, 3755*-3757*, TP59A-TP59B,
TP77-TP78, and 3109* are currently only open for use with the curator's permission. Contact the repository regarding access.
Boxes 2214-2312, 2315-2346, 2353-2360 and 3513-3531 contain unreformatted audiovisual materials and are restricted; all reels
are also restricted; contact the repository for reformatting of items in these boxes on reels.
Harald Szeemann papers, 1800-2011, bulk 1949-2005, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2011.M.30.
Acquired in 2011.
From January to June 2012, Alexis Adkins, Laura Schroffel, Medria Martin, and Emmabeth Nanol processed and cataloged Series
IV under the supervision of Andra Darlington. Szeemann's original organization of the material was retained, and previously
unfiled items were integrated into the orginal order whenever possible. Conservation treatment for some of the photographs
was done by Mark Benson and Teresa Mesquit. Nitrate negatives were rehoused by Adkins in consultation with Mesquit and are
In 2012 and 2013, with grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Holly Deakyne, Pietro Rigolo, Alexis
Adkins, Alice Poulalion, and Melanie Tran processed and cataloged Series I. The records were rehoused into archival containers
from the boxes, plastic cartons and ringed binders in which they were found, and the original organization of the materials
within these containers was retained. When possible, records from boxes of unsorted or unlabeled materials were identified
and added to the end of the appropriate project files.
In 2013 and 2014, with grant funding from the NEH, Deakyne, Rigolo, Adkins, Heather Courtney, B. Karenina Karyadi, Emmabeth
Nanol, Elena Salza, Laura Schroffel, Sue Tyson, Xiaoda Wang, and Isabella Zuralski processed and cataloged Series II. The
records were rehoused into archival containers from the wine boxes and manila folders in which they were found, and the original
organization of the materials within these containers was retained. When possible, records from boxes of unsorted or unlabeled
materials were identified and added to the appropriate artist files.
In 2014 to 2015, Rigolo processed and cataloged Series III.
In 2014 to 2015, Lindsey Sommer processed and cataloged Series IX under the supervision of Rigolo.
In 2015, Sommer processed and cataloged Series VIII under the supervision of Rigolo.
In 2015, Wang and Sommer processed the posters and works of art that were housed separately in tubes and flatfiles at the
Fabbrica, and incorporated them in to Series I and Series II.
In 2015, Deakyne, Rigolo, Wang, and Judy Chou processed and cataloged Series VII. The materials were rehoused into archival
containers from the wine boxes and manila folders in which they were found, and the original organization of the materials
within these containers was retained. When possible, materials from boxes of unsorted or unlabeled materials were identified
and added to the appropriate city.
In 2015, Sue Tyson processed and cataloged Series VI. The materials were rehoused into archival containers from the wine boxes
and manila folders in which they were found. When possible, unsorted or unlabeled materials were identified and added to the
In 2015, Tyson processed and cataloged Series V. The audiovisual materials were rehoused into archival containers or left
in the original containers when appropriate. Additional materials were processed and cataloged by Wang in 2016. The cataloging
was completed by Deakyne in 2016.
The series are being processed out of order, with Series IV having been processed first, followed by Series I, II, III, IX,
VIII, VII, VI, and V. As a result, the box numbers are non-sequential.
Deakyne, Maggie Hughes, and Wang interfiled additional materials to all series and enhanced description from 2015 to 2016.
Prior to the acquisition of the collection by the Getty Research Institute, some of the materials related to Monte Verità
were separated by Harald Szeemann and given to the Fondazione Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland. The link to information
about these materials is at
Scope and Content of Collection
Harald Szeemann's vast archive documents his career as a visionary art curator for almost five decades, from 1957 to 2005.
Included are project files tracing the development of numerous exhibitions and other projects, extensive correspondence with
noted artists and cultural figures throughout the world, photographic documentation of exhibitions and artworks, video art
and recorded interviews, exhibition announcements and other ephemera from hundreds of museums and galleries, research files
on a broad range of topics, a small group of personal papers, and business records.
Series I documents Szeemann's curatorial process from conception to installation ("from vision to nail"), including his detailed
notes, installation sketches, correspondence, building plans, exhibition announcements and checklists, wall texts, research
material, and documents related to the production of didactic material, framing, and shipping. Some projects have files on
the individual artists in the exhibition, and there is crossover with Series II. The project files also include material related
to other projects such as films, books, texts, seminars, lectures and awards ceremonies. Also documented are exhibitions Szeemann
co-curated, for which he was a consultant, or to which he contributed writings. The files were organized by Szeemann in chronological
order. Unrealized projects have been integrated into the series by the archivist using the earliest date mentioned in the
Series II contains artist files on more than 20,000 artists. While many files contain only one or two items, other files include
artist correspondence, unique works of art, rare posters, and limited-edition items along with exhibition announcements and
press clippings. Some exhibition records were relocated to the artist files by Szeemann, so there is crossover with Series
I. Artist files are not limited to fine artists, but also include authors, musicians, filmmakers, and other creators. Szeemann
accrued particularly extensive files on Joseph Beuys, James Lee Byars, Gilbert Clavel, Marcel Duchamp, Mario Merz, Antonin
Artaud, and Hugo Ball.
Series III contains Szeemann's files on and correspondence with other curators and art world figures, including architects,
gallerists, art critics, art historians, choreographers, collectors, and photographers. Correspondence with catalog contributors
and other collaborators to his exhibitions can be found here, as well as materials on art associations, magazines, companies,
awards, publishing houses, and fairs.
Series IV contains more than 40,500 photographic prints, negatives, slides, and transparencies. Included is extensive documentation
of many of Szeemann's exhibitions and other projects; photographs of artists with whom he worked and their individual artworks
and performances; a collection of portraits of the Monte Verità intellectual circle by photographer Margarethe Fellerer; Szeemann's
slide library, including slideshows compiled for lectures; collections of photographs reflecting Szeemann's interdisciplinary
subject interests with a focus on cultural sites and geographic locations; and portraits and snapshots of Szeemann and his
Series V comprises Szeemann's audiovisual collection of approximately 2240 items including films and videos submitted by artists,
radio and television interviews, music, photographic and textual files regarding exhibitions or artists, and materials received
from museums and galleries. Some of the material has been separated from other series. Formats include VHS, compact discs,
vinyl records, DVDs, audiocassettes, CD-ROMs, CD-Rs, floppy disks, and film and audiotape reels.
Series VI documents Szeemann's research interests in wide range subject areas including fine and graphic arts; art collectors
and publishing houses; dance and choreography; film, video, and broadcast media; literature and philosophy; music; theater;
countries, regions, and cities in Europe and around the globe; people; politics, environment and society; and assorted topics
he collected under the rubric Temi (themes). Materials include clippings from newspapers, magazines, and press bureaus; brochures
and pamphlets; publications including books, journals, and newsletters; photographic materials; postcards; drawings; posters;
theater and film programs; calendars; city guidebooks; and maps.
Series VII contains the ephemera Szeemann collected from hundreds of museums and galleries throughout the world. He also collected
ephemera from international exhibitions, festivals, symposiums and workshops, and other events. Materials include brochures,
booklets; exhibition and institution guides; catalogs; correspondence in the form of faxes, emails, postcards and letters;
posters; price lists; ticket stubs; and city guidebooks; and, less frequently, items such as matches; pins; shopping bags;
Series VIII includes family correspondence; materials collected by Szeemann about individuals in his family; materials collected
by his family about his death including obituaries and condolence letters; and objects.
Series IX reflects Szeemann's business activities and contains many years' worth of bank statements, receipts, and other financial
records created or used by Szeemann during the course of travel or work, with a small portion covering personal family expenses,
such as tuition and house repairs.
The collection is arranged in nine series:
Series I. Project files;
Series II. Artist files;
Series III. Curator and museum professional files;
Series IV. Photographs;
Series V. Audiovisual;
Series VI. Topical;
Series VII. Gallery and museum ephemera;
Series VIII. Personal files;
Series IX. Business files.
Subjects - Names
Andre, Carl, 1935-
Bode, Arnold, 1900-1977
Boltanski, Christian, 1944-
Cragg, Tony, 1949-
De Domizio Durini, Lucrezia
De Maria, Walter, 1935-
Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968
Ensor, James, 1860-1949
Flavin, Dan, 1933-1996
Heizer, Michael, 1944-
Jarry, Alfred, 1873-1907
Johns, Jasper, 1930-
Judd, Donald, 1928-1994
Kienholz, Edward, 1927-1994
Klein, Yves, 1928-1962
Kowalski, Piotr, 1927-2004
Kunz, Emma, 1892-1963
Laib, Wolfgang, 1950-
LeWitt, Sol, 1928-2007
Lijn, Liliane, 1939-
Lischetti, Carlo E., 1946-
Long, Richard, 1945-
Martin, Étienne, 1913-1995
Medalla, David, 1942-
Nauman, Bruce, 1941-
Nitsch, Hermann, 1938-
Oldenburg, Claes, 1929-
Oppenheim, Meret, 1913-1985
Picabia, Francis, 1879-1953
Rhoades, Jason, 1965-2006
Roth, Dieter, 1930-1998
Ryman, Robert, 1930-
Schulthess, Armand, 1900-1972
Schwitters, Kurt, 1887-1948
Serra, Richard, 1939-
Sonnier, Keith, 1941-
Soto, Jesús Rafael, 1923-2005
Spitzer, Serge, 1951-2012
Spoerri, Daniel, 1930-
Tinguely, Jean, 1925-1991
Toroni, Niele, 1937-
Tuttle, Richard, 1941-
Twombly, Cy, 1928-2011
Vautier, Ben, 1935-
Warhol, Andy, 1928-1987
West, Franz, 1947-2012
Wölfli, Adolf, 1864-1930
Subjects - Corporate Bodies
Biennale di Venezia
Festival internazionale del film di Locarno
Subjects - Topics
Art museum curators
Art, Modern--20th century
Fluxus (Group of artists)
Monte Verità (Artists' colony)
Genres and Forms of Material
Cellulose nitrate film
Color slides--20th century
Gelatin silver prints--20th century
Byars, James Lee
Cotton, Paul, 1939-
Fellerer, Margarethe, 1886-1961
Gaechter & Clausen
Geluwe, Johan van, 1929-
Lüscher, Ingeborg, 1936-
Rabinowitch, Royden, 1943-
Sattmann, Didi, 1951-
Wehrmann, Erhard, 1930-2004