Helmut Zambo, One-of-a-Kind Art Collector

Helmut Zambo

Helmut Zambo, One-of-a-Kind Art Collector

Helmut Zambo is a remarkable human being. I still have a vivid memory of when I first met him more than 20 years ago. At the time, I was the marketing director at Kunstforum Vienna and experienced first hand how this passionate collector designed a large Arnulf Rainer retrospective at Kunsthalle Krems. Back then, Mr. Zambo already owned some 300 of his works and brought sweeping and intimate knowledge of his art to the task. But why did he devote so much time and attention to me? Actually, I don’t know, but he probably wanted to see how the Kunstforum approached large solo exhibitions and, aside from Klaus Schröder and Ingried Brugger, he enjoyed having long conversations with me. In this process, I think, we learned more from him than he did from us, as Mr. Zambo intended to follow an altogether different approach.

What made the Krems exhibition so unique was that Mr. Zambo had no intention of taking inspiration from classic formats. It just never crossed his mind to copy concepts and presentations, because he felt the museum-style hanging of art with little signs next to them was an abomination. In approaching his task he drew on the full range of his knowledge, experience, and personal style. The consequences were far-reaching and Krems came to resemble his living room. In a very dense hanging, Arnulf Rainer’s works could now enter into a dialog that was sparked by a novel aesthetic pleasure. This presented visitors with a new perspective on Arnulf Rainer and many regarded the Krems retrospective as the most beautiful Rainer exhibition to date (at least in Austria). A few years later, a similarly opulent show was devoted to Johann Hauser in Krems, which was, again, a unique show designed in Zambo’s signature style. The only reason I am careful about talking in superlatives here is that the current Hauser exhibition at Museum Gugging (including the book!) is most likely the best thing that ever happened to this artist.

Rainer and Hauser are two of the artists that Zambo has accompanied and collected over several decades. As a “deep collector” he focused his commitment on only a few artists (aside from Rainer and Hauser, this includes Günter Brus, Walter Navratil, and Gaston Chaissac). In all, 8,000 works grace Zambo’s living quarters in Vienna and Badenweiler in a truly unique manner. Spanning several floors, his arrangement of central Modernist works is only poorly described by the art-historical term “salon hanging,” which just doesn’t capture the essence of this presentation. The rich quality and sensory immediacy it conveys to the viewer is dazzlingly magnificent, what more can I say?

Helmut Zambo is an important friend and advisor of the new State Gallery. Aside from the privilege of being able to present essential parts of his collection, we will share wonderful experiences with Helmut Zambo in Krems. The reason I’m so sure about that is because for me, every encounter with this charismatic collector has been a special event, and I think that, in some way, our new Museum could also begin to resemble Mr. Zambo’s living room, which would mark its third incarnation in Krems. 

In late August, Günther Oberhollenzer and I will visit Helmut Zambo in Badenweiler and talk about art, exhibitions, matters of quality, works, and the like. On September 13 at 6.30 pm in Krems, we will shine a light on the core issues pertaining to the collecting of art. Here’s a question and answer that could get you in the mood: Why does one have to own works of art in the first place? Helmut Zambo: “Worlds lie between seeing and owning a picture. Imagine you’ve found the partner of your dreams and could only look at her or him from a distance. Knowing that a picture is near you is wonderful. Even if sometimes a piece needs to be moved into storage for lack of space.” That’s pretty convincing, don’t you think?

Christian Bauer

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