Financial and business records are not, at first glance, the most fascinating type of archival material. Full of bank statements, tax ledgers, and expense receipts, they are pages of numbers, disconnected from the correspondence and photographs that appear more immediately illustrative of a person’s life and work. Yet for those willing to look deeper, they have much fascinating information to reveal.
Curator Harald Szeemann (1933–2005) left behind not only an enormous legacy in the world of art, but also an array of business records, which have now been catalogued and made accessible to researchers at the Getty Research Institute. The business files, part of of the Harald Szeemann Archive and Library, allow scholars a deeper look into both the professional and personal activities of one of Europe’s most lauded curators of the 20th century.
Among his many influential exhibitions, Szeemann curated Monte Verità: the breasts of truth in 1978 at Casa Anatta on Monte Verità and other venues in Ascona, Switzerland. At this site of numerous cultural events over the last century and a half, visitors to the exhibition were led through 16 stations “representing the chronology of events at Monte Verità (as well as in Ascona and its surroundings) between 1870 and 1970.” The exhibition later traveled to numerous locations, including Zurich and Berlin, before being partially reinstalled in 1981 at Casa Anatta, which reopened as a museum of the history of Monte Verità that same year. As part of the business files, Szeemann kept several accounting documents related to this exhibition (and many others), listing costs such as travel.
Also included in the business files are four roles of tape created for Szeemann’s independent enterprise and conceptual tool known as the Agency for Intellectual Guest Labor. In 1975, Szeemann noted obliquely that the agency “creates the stimulus and context and commissions me to work out the concept” for an independent enterprise. “Since the decision is ultimately passed down to me by the agency,” he continued, “and because I am the agency, I accept the commission and carry out the idea.”
Other examples of professional business activities represented in this series include receipts from museums and galleries for catalog requests, travel receipts for meals, hotels, and transportation, and financial documents related to publishing.
Of particular interest in the business files is the intersection between professional and personal, reflected in the intermixing of financial documents related to Szeemann’s personal interests and responsibilities. Receipts and expense reports for automobile and house repairs, as well as school receipts for daughter Una Szeemann, lie next to ledgers for exhibitions and catalog request forms. Countless documents illustrate Szeemann’s commitment to donating to a wide range of charities supporting human and animal rights, as well as the arts.
Finally, the theme of wine permeates many aspects of Szeemann’s archive, both as a means to store his materials (much of which were in wine boxes) and as a business expense, illuminated through decades of wine receipts. Interspersed throughout the years of personal and professional financial documents, receipts of wine create a connecting thread, one that was not completely by accident. Szeemann once stated, “unbound, everything in Merlot cases, the more I drink, the more I organize. When I diet, my organizing slows down.”
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Bravo Lindsey! Very well written piece on a very interesting man! Boring can be boring, but only if you don’t look closer.
Hmm… I think I just figured out a perfect way to start filing my own records! But, what will I do with all this pesky Cabernet taking up all the useful room in these file boxes? Hey, I’ve got it! Wine tasting! Can I write this off? Business expense? Yeah! I better call my accountant right away. Thanks for this fascinating article Lindsey!