Negotiating Art History through Exhibition History: Harald Szeemann As Curator Auteur

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This paper examines the repercussions of exhibition history in the art world in the late 1960s and early 1970s through a case study of the work of the curator Harald Szeemann. Szeemann, who received the title of “Ausstellungsmacher” (exhibition maker) in 1972 after the opening of Documenta 5, had already begun to transform the art world's understanding of exhibitionary modes. Having previously resigned from the position as director at the Kunsthalle in Bern, Szeemann now acted as the first independent curator, unconventionally proposing the display of art as “the staging of life” and as an “event-concept.” In his arena the artist became “visible as a living behavioral example;” the art object, in turn, functioned merely to provide a point of reference to the multitude of relationships between artist-and-work and artist-and-viewer. Such manifestations were, according to him, a truer form of art. This newly established trajectory in the history of exhibitions arose out of Szeemann’s initial attempt to show the similarity of working methods between contemporary American and European artists in two different back-to-back exhibitions, "When Attitudes Become Form" and Documenta V. This paper considers how these exhibitions, serving as mediums of transnational integration and cosmopolitanism, anticipated the social and participatory rhetoric of future artistic activities. To this end it proposes that a particular exhibition style, beginning with the work of Harald Szeemann, created a platform for relationships among artists of different nations in a manner that has affected the history of art itself.

Keywords: Exhibition History, Harald Szeemann, Transnational Platforms, Event Concept
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English

Sarah Mills

Ph.D. Candidate, Art History Department
Graduate Center, City University of New York

New York City, New York, USA

Ref: A09P0668