Harald Szeemann, 71; Swiss Art Critic, Curator Renowned for His Shows

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Harald Szeemann, 71, a Swiss art critic and curator renowned for his work at such shows as the Biennale in Venice, Italy, and the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, died Feb. 18 in the Ticino region of Switzerland. The cause of death was not reported.

Szeemann began making a name in the art world in the 1960s when he served as director of the Kunstahalle in Bern.

He organized scores of exhibitions, turning the Swiss institution into an obligatory stopping-off place for new generations of European and American artists.


Szeemann was appointed director of Documenta, the world’s largest contemporary art show, in 1972. He revolutionized the show, which is held every five years, inviting artists to present not only paintings and sculptures but also performances and scientific innovations.

In the 1980s, Szeemann worked for the Venice Biennale, creating the section “Aperto” (“Open”), which presented the work of young artists. He worked at the Biennale again in 1999 and 2001.

During the 1980s, he also took over unconventional, often large premises, such as former stables and hospitals, for use as exhibition spaces.

Szeemann was born in Bern and studied art history, archeology and journalism at the University of Bern.