PRINT October 1998

Harald Szeemann

There are two fundamental possibilities available to an artist: to negate, stripping away until nothing remains, or to accumulate, to embrace additively until one has reached the limit of fullness. The subversive, at times contrarian Dieter Roth—loving and caustic, chaotic and precise—pursued both paths at once. His way was then, by necessity, never the one of least resistance. And over the course of a lifetime, the wounds (both those inflicted on others and those he received himself) accumulated in his memory, so that he would tap and thus exacerbate the torment and escape it through an abundance of ideas. Whether working in sculpture, poetry, music, or design, he was ever the intellectual, an existential furnace who let “crap” be crap, even as he transposed and transformed it. He derailed all our civilized habits of seeing, hearing, reading, even smelling and touching—for what is civilization other than “mashed civilization with foam on top on the history of itself, which is the history of civilization as a list of the mutually dependent layers of a garbage dump, found in an observer who is trapped in a tradition of the concept of happening as an independent entity as such”? (“Geschehen als unabhaengiges Solches”) (Mundunculum, GW 16, Stuttgart 1975).

Harald Szeeman was recently named director of the upcoming 48th Venice Biennale.

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.