Getty Research Institute presents: Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions

One of the largest collections the Getty Research Institute has ever acquired has led to a major exhibition surveying the extraordinary practices of Harald Szeemann (1933-2005)– the world-renowned curator of modern and contemporary art who championed radical art and was a fascinating art-world figure. Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions will be on view at the Getty Research Institute from February 6 through May 6, 2018, before traveling internationally.


Szeemann was the most influential curator of his generation, and his projects had a profound influence on artistic developments of the postwar era, from conceptualism and postminimalism to new forms of installation and performance art,” said Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute. “His archive is one of the largest and most impressive collections acquired by the Getty and this exhibition is a window into the workings of one of modern art’s most fascinating minds.”


Harald Szeemann: Museum of Obsessions explores the life and career of the quintessential exhibition maker, from his groundbreaking involvement with the avant-garde movements of the 1960s and 1970s and his global contemporary exhibitions of the 1990s and 2000s to his personal reading of early 20th-century modernism. The archive was acquired in 2011 and is massive, covering a five-decade-long curatorial career and comprising his extensive research and records, along with his creative archiving strategies. In addition to letters exchanged with artists, photographs, proposals, and ephemera, the archive includes many idiosyncratic objects that Szeemann collected.


Szeeemann’s work covered large areas of research, challenging traditional narratives of art history and often embracing creative fields outside the visual arts. For each of his more than 150 exhibitions he contributed extensively to his vast library and research archive, which he referred to as a “Museum of Obsessions.”


“Szeemann’s museum of obsessions comprised not only the physical place of the archive but also a mental landscape that encompassed all moments of genius and artistic intensity in his exhibitions, both realized and unrealized, past and future,” said Glenn Phillips, lead curator of the exhibition and head of modern and contemporary art at the GRI. “Immersing oneself in the depth and peculiarities of this archive it is easy to see how he became synonymous with the advent of globalism in contemporary art and one of art history’s most distinguished advocates of conceptual and postminimal art.”


The exhibition is divided into three thematic sections: “Avant-Gardes,” which addresses Szeemann’s early exhibitions and his engagements with the artistic vanguards of the 1960s and early 1970s; “Utopias and Visionaries,” which explores a trilogy of exhibitions Szeemann organized in the 1970s and 1980s that rewrote the narrative of early 20th-century modernism as a story of alternative political movements, mystical worldviews, and utopian ideologies; and “Geographies,” which examines Szeemann’s own Swiss identity, his penchant for travel, and his focus on broad international exhibitions and regional presentations later in his career.


Additional information is available at


The exhibition is curated by Glenn Phillips and Philipp Kaiser, with Doris Chon and Pietro Rigolo. The exhibition is generously supported by Warren Lichtenstein, in honor of Tommy Lasorda, with additional support from Sotheby’s. Also supported by the Danielson Foundation. The exhibition tour is substantially supported by a grant from the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.


The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library—housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier—is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library’s special collections include rare books, artists’ journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.



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