harald szeemann, terra incognita: on exhibitions as a means of expressions, extract from an interwiev with jerome sans


     These days all cities are keen to have their own exhibitions, festivals, and little museums. There was much talk back in the 1960s about this decentralization thing - art and creativity everywhere and for everyone. But now there are so many museums, and exhibitions, and other major art events that there's a risk of not being able to see the wood for the trees. The most important factor for curators is choice, whether they are enjoying a permanent appointment in a museum, or whether they are freelance. Even if museum curators have the wherewithal to say more as a result of having exhibition programs, the choice factor is still crucial, whether it involves informative selection or selective information. I get the impression, what's more, that exhibitions have lost their sense of adventure.
       There are plenty of institutions still putting on show after show at some crazy rate. Or else they're plugging the gaps in their programs instead of biding their time and putting things into perspective, so that the next show will be a new venture and not just one more exhibition. I get the feeling very few exhibitions are labors of love. Everything has become just right and professional. But what's missing is the personal angle. There's no personal commitment or investment. There's more to an exhibition than just putting on a show. An exhibition is also about attending to works and artists alike. Hence my own motto: "From Vision to Nail", i.e., down to the tiniest detail, it's personal investment and commitment that count.
       Exhibitions have turned into an out-and-out industry. An industry that must deal with media fallout and as many visitors as possible. My philosophy involves putting on shows for the pleasure of it. I enjoy the luxury of never having had to put on a show that really "has to pay for itself". I've never been bothered by media fallout and as many visitors as possible. It's better to have just one really interested visitor than 20,000 who aren't, even if, as far as institutions are concerned, 20000 tickets might be just what's needed to cover costs and fulfill political expectations. For example, just 7000 people visited the When Attitudes become Forms show. In those days you had to come up with shoe string solutions to put on an exhibition, and you had to do everything yourself. I don't see any future in the present trend where one show is forever outbidding the next. I think we'll all have to operate more and more the way we did in the old days.
       Everything I do stems to some extent from that famous innermost need that Vassily Kandinsky referred to. In this respect, I feel more like a "poet in space". In the years to come, works exhibited will have to have more autonomy, and we'll have to put more trust in them. But you can't just split up a space into as many sections as there are invited artists. That system may have worked in the 1970s, but it's out of sync now. In fact, it's the biggest mistake and the most common one, and all the more so because it's not even democratic. Much more is needed these days. What exhibitions need, more than ever, is a main theme or a vision underpinning them.
Harald Szeemann
(Translation from french)