Harald Szeemann

Harald Szeemann (June 11, 1933 – February 18, 2005) was a Swiss curator, artist, and art historian, renowned for his profound influence on the contemporary art world. His career, spanning several decades, was marked by groundbreaking exhibitions and a revolutionary approach to curating.

Early Life and Education

Born in Bern, Switzerland, Szeemann developed an early interest in art and theater. He studied art history, archaeology, and journalism at the University of Bern. This diverse academic background laid the foundation for his interdisciplinary approach to curating.

Early Career

Szeemann began his curatorial career at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1961. He quickly gained recognition for his innovative and often provocative exhibitions. His 1969 exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form” was groundbreaking, featuring works that emphasized the artist’s process and ideas over the final object. This exhibition set a new standard for curatorial practice and is often cited as a seminal moment in contemporary art.

Independent Curating

In 1972, Szeemann became the first independent curator in contemporary art history. This move allowed him more freedom and flexibility in his projects, leading to a series of significant, boundary-pushing exhibitions. His approach was characterized by thematic, often large-scale shows that transcended traditional museum formats and geographical boundaries.

Venice Biennale

Szeemann’s role in the Venice Biennale was particularly notable. He served as the artistic director of the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001, becoming the first to curate the Biennale’s main exhibition twice. His vision for the Biennale was transformative, focusing on a global perspective and introducing a thematic approach that challenged the traditional nation-based pavilion system. His exhibitions, “dAPERTutto” (1999) and “Plateau of Humankind” (2001), were praised for their innovative format and profound impact on the international art scene.


Szeemann’s impact on the art world is immeasurable. He is remembered not only for the exhibitions he curated but also for the way he expanded the role of the curator. He believed in the curator as a creator in their own right, capable of crafting narratives and experiences that could challenge and expand the viewer’s understanding of art. His work paved the way for a generation of curators and changed the landscape of contemporary art exhibitions.