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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Address: Kapitelplatz, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.