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June 2, 2020





Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, normal life has been shattered and we wanted to stay in touch with artists and keep communicating with them and about them. That's the reason bürobasel launched the "Two Questions"-series, asking our artists two straight-forward questions. After the feedback we got, we continue with this series, even if the situation - at least in Europe - currently (temporarily?) seems to easen up.

This time we talk to Arnold Helbling, an artist living in New York for 30 years already. Arnold has been accompanying and actively supporting the idea of "buerobasel" since the beginning. Arnold lived and studied in Basel from 1982-1987.

1. Where are you?

For the past 9½ weeks it has been eerily quiet on my street that leads to the Lincoln tunnel on the far Westside of Manhattan. Because the windows stayed mostly closed during this cool Spring I could hardly hear nor see anybody all day.


Only at 7 o’clock a short outburst of what sounds like a cascade of liberating screams and cheering claps to honor the medical frontline workers erupts seemingly out of nowhere and this punctuates my workflow, drawing me to the window - my rousing and still absent mind is simply thinking: oh, life is back! - At least for a few short moments before this roaring affirmation of the close yet disconnected proximity of other people leaves me with an uncanny feeling of sadness and helplessness every time.

2. What are you currently working on?

My neighbor generously lets me use her big and coincidentally empty studio during this still ongoing lockdown in New York.


The unexpected expansion of my physical reach gave me a jolt and I started to develop an installation just for that space and just for an audience of one! … with the exception of some virtual visits by fellow artists. Sure, I felt guilty at times to have this privilege, knowing that the city and many residents around me are suffering badly. But concentrating on my work keeps me at least away from the outside and let me do what I can do best, even in a crisis.


I have exhibited ‘Balance ONE’ at the Deutsches Haus at NY University last Fall. In the center of the installation emerges the fragmented shadow of a life size figure - not unlike that of a tightrope walker - from behind a dense web of lines and dots that are derived from computer circuit boards.


Balance TWO now is a continuation of this tightrope walker’s act. I started out with the same technique that I use for my canvas paintings - that is to paint on sheets of plastic before transferring them collage-style. The much bigger scale of these installations proves to be very liberating and lets me intuitively break out of the boundaries of the rectangular format, greatly expanding the physical and playful scope in the process. To use a musical analogy: I start with a single idea, adding instruments, voices and colors to crescendo in a symphonic composition.


Balance TWO slowly grew over the weeks to a 25 foot installation and has become at the same time the contextual framework, the atmospheric stage and a very big, temporal working model for the dense canvas paintings that I have been working on at the same time and that came to stand in front of it.

(photo copyright Stefania Zamparelli)


Arnold Helbling, Balance TWO, 2020, Acrylic, Oil, Sheet Plastic, Canvas, Tape, Pin, approx. 310x780cm


Arnold Helbling, Sketch, 2020, Acrylic, Photo Copy, Sheet Plastic, 130x150cm


Arnold Helbling, Untitled (Detail), 2020, Acrylic, Toner pigment on Canvas, 178x127cm

(Based on first Intel #4004, the first microprocessor, 1971)


Arnold Helbling, Balance ONE, 2019, Acrylic, Pencil, Sheet Plastic, Photo copy, Tape, Pin, Canvas, Wood, Paper, 230x300x12cm

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