Stephan Balkenhol is known not only for his technical mastery of the woodcarving medium, but also for his exploration of the role of the figure in contemporary sculpture. Throughout his practice, Balkenhol has explored the concept of the figure, alluding to and drawing from art history to create his suite of characters, albeit each is stripped of any specific personality.Read More
Beginning in 1983 (his first year out of art school) Balkenhol's early work—female and male nudes affixed to pedestals—referenced classical Greek sculpture, with refined, geometric features and contrapposto stances. In the mid-1980s he began taking commissions for outdoor works; in 1992 he installed two of his sculptures on London's River Thames—one on a buoy and another near Blackfriars Bridge. He also has numerous installations in Germany, including in Kassel, in Leipzig, at the entrance of Tierpark Hagenbeck (Hamburg's Zoo) and at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt. During the 1990s Balkenhol sculpted animals and hybrids as well. His practice also spans drawing and photography.
Balkenhol's sculpture is reminiscent of folk art, with totem-like caricatures of the everyday person. These caricatures are perhaps a commemoration of the common man and his existence in society. Balkenhol carves them out of a variety of woods, including poplar and Douglas fir. Working on single blocks with hammers, power saws and chisels, he leaves traces of the tool marks visible in the finished sculpture. He also leaves traces of the materiality of the wood itself visible in its knots, grain and cracks.
Balkenhol attended the Hamburg Hochschule für bildende Künste from 1976 to 1982, where he studied under the Minimalist artist, Ulrich Rückriem. He received two scholarships during this time, and then taught at his alma mater in 1988. A year later, he began teaching at Frankfurt's Städelschule, where he would continue teaching until 1991. Since 1992, he has taught at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Karlsruhe.
Balkenhol has had many international solo shows at institutions such as Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow (2015); Palais d'Iéna, Paris (2012); National Museum of Art, Osaka (2005); and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (1991). His sculptures are included in prominent international collections such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec; Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.
Jessica Douglas | Ocula | 2017
Sinuous sculptures crafted from steel, post-WWII abstract paintings and celebrity portraits by Annie Leibovitz are just a few of the highlights of this month's exhibitions