Attending the Hamburg School of Fine Arts from 1976 - 82, Balkenhol was exposed to the Minimalist and Conceptual trends popular at that time, with tutors including Nam June Paik and Sigmar Polke. His experience here profoundly affected his subsequent artistic practice. Sensing an absence in these two schools of thought, Balkenhol sought out the human figure and began a considered campaign to reintroduce it into contemporary art, declaring: "I must reinvent the figure to resume an interrupted tradition".
As a renowned sculptor, Balkenhol is recognised not only for the technical prowess with which he hand carves each of his wooden sculptures, but for his continual devotion to exploring the role of the figure within contemporary art. The artist's unique sculptures combine anonymous human figures with tall pedestals, all hand carved from singular blocks, often of poplar or wawa wood. The figures emanate timelessness: simple, plain-coloured clothing and the confident yet unassuming poses of the everyday man.
Balkenhol has developed a significant repertoire of public commissions spanning his twenty-year career, with installations in front of the Blackfriars Bridge in London, at the entrance of the Hamburg Zoo; at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt; and in Kassel and Leipzig, Germany.
Notable solo exhibitions include: ‘Stephan Balkenhol', Museum of Sepulchral Culture, Kassel, Germany (2019); Stephan Balkenhol', Kunsthalle Emdem, Germany (2018); ‘Stephan Balkenhol Fabula', Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, France (2018); ‘30 Years Stephan Balkenhol', Deweer Gallery, Brussels (2017); ‘Stephan Balkenhol', Galerie Rüdinger Schöttle, Munich, Germany (2017); ‘Stephan Balkenhol', Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich, Switzerland (2016); Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Palais Gogolevski, Moscow, Russia (2016); ‘Stephan Balkenhol and Philippe Cognée', Fondation Fernet-Branca, Saint-Louis, France (2016, two-person); 'New Sculptures', Akinci, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2015); ‘Stephan Balkenhol' Landes Museum, Linz, Austria (2015-2014); ‘Stephan Balkenhol', Kunstmuseum Ravensburg, Germany (2014); ‘Stephan Balkenhol', ‘Unlimited Bodies - Corps Sans Limite,' Palais d'Iéna, Paris, France (2012); ‘Stephan Balkenhol,' Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble (2010); ‘Stephan Balkenhol,' Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2008-2009); ‘Stephan Balkenhol,' Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden (2006); ‘Stephan Balkenhol,' National Museum of Contemporary Art, Osaka (2005); ‘Stephan Balkenhol,' Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv (2005); Sprengel Museum, Hannover (2003); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (1995); The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (1991).
Selected group exhibitions include: ‘A Cool Breeze', Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic (2019); ‘Neuerwerbungen Herbst', Galerie Ludorff, Dusseldorf, Germany (2018); ‘Frauenzimmer', Galerie Klüser, Munich, Germany (2017); ‘Summer Exhibition', Royal Academy, London, UK (2016); ‘Defining Sculpture', Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, USA (2016); ‘Animalia', Marian Goodman Gallery, London, UK (2016); Inventory, Vol.5: Acquisitions from 1992 to 1996', FRAC Haute-Normandie, Rouen, France (2015); ‘Space Age', Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Paris, France (2015); ‘Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition', Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK (2015); ‘Study from the Human Body', Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK (2014); ‘The Art of the Present', Helga de Alevear Collection, Centro Centro, Madrid, Spain (2013); ‘Je t'aime... moi non plus', Musée des Beaux-Arts Eugène Leroy, Tourcoing, France (2013); ‘Unlimited Bodies', Palais Diena, Paris, France (2012); ‘Twenty Years of Presence', MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany (2011); ‘Idea and Object', Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria (2010); ‘Securities', DEWEER Gallery, Otegem, Belgium (2009); ‘Listen Darling The World Is Yours', Ellipse Foundation Contemporary Art Center, Lisbon, Portugal (2008); ‘Museum der Moderne Salzburg Mönchsberg', Salzburg, Austria (2006); ‘Faces in the Crowd', Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2005) and ‘Albright Knox art Gallery, Buffalo, USA (2004).
Balkenhol's works are included in prominent collections internationally, including the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal, Quebec; Smithsonian Institution, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; Musée de Grenoble, France; The National Museum of Art, Osaka and Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.