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Perruque 1: Harald Szeemann's Grandfather, Secret Inventor of the Perm

(Added 17 January 2009)

Image source: Harald Szeemann, Individual Methodology JRP Ringier, 2007

Harald Szeemann (born June 11, 1933 in Bern, Switzerland) was an independent curator often cited as the originator of the contemporary thematic art exhbition (Großausstellung or “great exhibition”), in which the artworks are tied to a central concept and are assembled into new and often surprising interrelationships.

In 1972 he was the youngest artistic director at documenta 5 in Kassel. After documenta 5, Szeeman invented a series of small scale exhbitions grouped together under the moniker “Museum of Obsessions”.

Szeemann’s “Grand Father: A Pioneer Like Us” (1974) took place in his Bern apartment (later to become Galerie Toni Gerber). In the exhibition he presented hairdressing equipment that belonged to his grandfather, who was a professional hairdresser and secret inventor of the perm. By displaying objects on an equal level with artworks, Szeeman pushed the boundaries of professional exhibition making, creating a model of exhbition as personal cosmology.

Excerpt from: Mind over matter. (interview with Harald Szeemann): Artforum International | Date: 11/1/1996 | Author: Obrist, Hans-Ulrich

HUO: After Documenta, you founded what you called the Museum of Obsessions. How did it come about and what was its function?

HS: I invented this Museum, which exists only in my head, to give direction to the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit. It was Easter ‘74 and the agency had already existed for five years. Documenta had been a brutal exhibition: with 225,000 visitors, fragile pieces were easily damaged if you did not pay attention. I reacted to that by organizing a very intimate exhibition in an apartment called “Grand-Father,” which consisted of my grandfather’s personal belongings, and the tools of his profession – he was a hairdresser, an artist. I arranged these things to create an environment that reflected my interpretation of who he was. I have always maintained that it is important to try new approaches.

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