A Visit with Helmut Zambo in Badenweiler

The Collector and His World

A Visit with Helmut Zambo in Badenweiler

Works of art are hung from floor to ceiling. Wild overpainted photos and crosses by Arnulf Rainer, expressive Pour Paintings by Hermann Nitsch, the mysterious, surreal imagery of Walter Navratil, dense finger paintings by Louis Soutter, and in-between them African sculptures. Warm daylight flows in through large windows in the high, two-story room, which looks out on a large garden. Through the fog, the silhouettes of the Vosges mountains are visible. We, Christian Bauer and I are visiting with Helmut Zambo at his home in Badenweiler, a small spa town near the French-Swiss border. A passionate friend of the arts and collector, he built this house here twenty years ago, for himself and for his art — a place to live, linger, and marvel at these walls. It’s easy to imagine Zambo, after a busy day, spending the evening with his art, sitting comfortably on the big couch, a glass of red wine in his hand, perhaps with classical music playing in the background.Einblick in die Sammlung Zambo mit Werken von Louis Soutter, Foto: Natascha Unkart
A view of the Zambo collection with works by Louis Soutter. Photos by Natascha Unkart

A guest entering and absorbing Zambo’s world of art for the first time will almost certainly not know where to start looking. The dense arrangement and intensity of the works are overwhelming. But he or she will likely soon begin to realize, feel, and understand. The rooms are carefully thought out. Despite the dense hanging, the arrangements appear coherent and composed with clarity. Zambo guides us through the grouping of art he himself designed, something he emphasizes with a hint of pride. Collecting and arranging works of art is a great pleasure to him. As an obliging host, however, he also loves to show his works to interested art aficionados and relate stories connected with them.

The main room is dominated by Arnulf Rainer. Zambo visited him for the first time in 1960 and paid off the first work he acquired from the artist in monthly installments. When he hung it on the wall, he recounts, the other works came down. "They couldn’t hold their own against Rainer," the collector remembers. Thus, his passion was born. "If you want to do justice to Rainer, you need to have a large number of his works." It is important to Helmut Zambo to accompany artists on their path through life, to aim for depth in his collection. He also applied the uncommon concept of "salon hanging" at two monographic exhibitions he curated at Kunsthalle Krems, which thus came to resemble his living room. One was dedicated to Arnulf Rainer, the other to Johann Hauser. We see mostly small-format drawings by the latter – women, aircraft or sometimes just a simple heart – in the more intimate rooms on the upper floor. They are juxtaposed with the likes of Adolf Wölfli and Oswald Tschirtner. Thus, ever more new pictorial spaces open up to us – in the office paintings by August Walla and Gaston Chassiac, in the bedroom "Picture Poetry” drawings by Günter Brus. 

Sammlung Zambo in Badenweiler, Foto: Natascha Unkart

The Zambo Collection in Badenweiler, Photos by Natascha Unkart

He could tell a story about every one of his works, Zambo notes. The piece of art he acquired? "That was an abstract Hundertwasser watercolor, bought it when I was 16." Sixty years on, he has built a unique art collection in Badenweiler and Vienna and the passion behind it is as strong as ever. Helmut Zambo will have lots to say and tell at today’s Expert Talk "The Passion of a Deep Collector"

Günther Oberhollenzer

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