Stephan Balkenhol’s massive, golden sculpture in Salzburg – Sphaera

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Introduction

The sculpture Sphaera by Stephan Balkenhol was installed as part of the Art Project Salzburg in the 2007 Salzburg Festival and is based on various medieval mysteries.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Construction & design

The artwork, situated outside of the Salzburg cathedral on the Kapitelplatz, is easily recognizable from afar thanks to its golden sheen that reflects light from the sun. The 9-meter-high sculpture depicts a male figure wearing a neutral expression on his face standing atop a golden sphere.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

The man with the neutral expression on his face was constructed out of wood and bronzed. Balkenhol created the man as a figurative depiction of the everyday man.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Balkenhol’s work & style

Balkenhol has been creating works like these, featuring the everyday man and woman as his main subject, for years. His sculptures, typically constructed from wood acquired from the waa tree in Africa, glorify indistinguishable and ordinary individuals in society who are often assumed and ignored.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Style-wise, Balkenhol’s sculptures are typically cut roughly and tend to be unpolished. The artist accepts that cracks and defects are characteristic of the medium. These flaws, in unison with the realism and the neutral expressions on the sculptures, are what help to lend a sense of ambiguity to the end products. This, in turn, allows people to instantly connect with the everyday man or woman.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

The meaning

According to critics, Sphaera has a strong cultural significance for Germans as it represents the protagonist in the Austrian play Jedermann, which translates to Everyman. Jedermann is one of those plays that are performed repeatedly in festivals and theaters all over the country.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

It is also a title of a play created by Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal in 2011, which is based on the 15th-century morality play Everyman1. Since 1920, it has been performed at the world-renowned Salzburg Festival every year, which was co-founded by von Hofmannsthal himself.

The first time Jedermann has been performed at the Salzburg Festival, starring Alexander Moissi (as Everyman) and Dagny Servaes (as Buhlschaft)
The first performance of Jedermann at the Salzburg Festival, starring Alexander Moissi (as Everyman) and Dagny Servaes (as Buhlschaft), photo: Archiv der Salzburger Festspiele/Foto Ellinger, CC BY 3.0

Audiences looking at Sphaera and all the other sculptures in the Everyman series can interpret the works as they please, which usually serves as its own type of therapy for the observer. The sculpture’s greatest strength is its indefiniteness, which allows anyone, even tourists who aren’t familiar with Jedermann and German culture in general, to understand and deduce the sculpture.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

All in all, Balkenhol created Sphaera to demonstrate that the human figure is universal. Though people may have different physical attributes, human beings are instinctually connected by emotion and the need for community.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Location

Address: Kapitelplatz, 5020 Salzburg, Austria

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Initially, Balkenhol had another place in mind for installing his artwork, which didn’t work out for traffic reasons. Nevertheless, he is quite content with the final location. He explained2:

Then I discovered Kapitelplatz and found a stroke of luck: a square without an actual center that needs a sculpture. I think the square is good for my sculpture and my sculpture is good for the square.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

With 150,000 inhabitants, Salzburg is a relatively small city but boasts an impressive assembly of artworks3 in public space. Among those artists invited to create sculptures and installations are Marina Abramović, Christian Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer, Jaume Plensa, James Turrell, Not Vital and Erwin Wurm. Most of the artworks are strategically located close to each other, making it easy to explore them on foot.

Jaume Plensa - Awilda, 2010, installation view, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
Jaume Plensa – Awilda, 2010, installation view, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

Similar artwork in Edinburgh

More than 1000 miles away across the North Sea outside the Edinburgh City Council Offices is also a similar statue. Like the Sphaera sculpture, the artwork also features a man with identical clothing and a similar expression on his face. This statue is also raised on a scaffolding measuring approximately seven meters high; the only difference between this sculpture and the Sphaera in Salzburg is the stance of the man.

Stephan Balkenhol - Everyman, 2007, installation view, Edinburgh Council Headquarters
Stephan Balkenhol – Everyman, 2007, installation view, Edinburgh Council Headquarters, photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 by twicepix

Final thoughts

In the past, critics would categorize Balkenhol in the Expressionist movement. The artist’s early 3D works and flat woodcuts consisted mainly of nudes that were created using traditional techniques. During his early days, Balkenhol was heavily influenced by 20th-century German expressionists such as Lehmbruck and Kirchner.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

However, gradually, the artist started distancing himself from the expressionist movement to differentiate himself and make his work stand out. As a result, he began to include clothing on all his human figures.

Stephan Balkenhol - Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria
Stephan Balkenhol – Sphaera, 2007, steel, plastic, bronze and gold leaf, 8,8-meter height, 5-meter diameter, 3,5 tonnes, installation view, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg, Austria, photo: Public Delivery

 

All images: Public Delivery unless otherwise noted.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/everyman-a-morality-play
  2. https://www.diepresse.com/319536/salzburg-riesen-skulptur-von-stephan-balkenhol-enthuellt
  3. https://www.salzburg.info/en/salzburg/creative-salzburg/art-in-public-room

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