Biography

Erwin Olaf (1959-2023) was known for his diverse practice that centered around society’s marginalized individuals, including people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, Olaf became a Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands after 500 works from his oeuvre were added to the collection of the Rijksmuseum. Taco Dibbits, Rijksmuseum director, called Olaf “one of the most important photographers of the final quarter of the 20th century”.

In 2018, Olaf completed a triptych of monumental photographic and filmic tableaux portraying periods of seismic change in major world cities, and the citizens embraced and othered by their urban progress. Like much of his work, it is contextualized by complex race relations, the devastation of economic divisions, and the complications of sexuality. Olaf maintained an activistic approach to equality throughout his 40-year career after starting out documenting pre-AIDS gay liberation in Amsterdam’s nightlife in the 1980s.

A bold and sometimes controversial approach earned the artist a number of prestigious collaborations, from Vogue and Louis Vuitton, to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. He served as the official portrait artist for the Dutch royal family in 2017, and designed the national side of the euro coins for King Willem-Alexander in 2013. He was awarded the Netherlands’ prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award, as well as Photographer of the Year at the International Color Awards, and Kunstbeeld magazine’s Dutch Artist of the Year. In 2023, His Majesty the King Willem-Alexander awarded him the Medal of Honor for Art and Science of the Order of the House of Orange.

Erwin Olaf exhibited worldwide, including Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Málaga, Spain; Museu da Imagem e do Som, São Paulo, Brazil; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago, Chile. In the spring of 2019, Olaf’s work was the subject of a double exhibition at Kunstmuseum The Hague and The Hague Museum of Photography, as well as a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Center of Photography. In 2021, Erwin Olaf had his first solo exhibition Im Wald at Galerie Ron Mandos and mounted a large survey exhibition at Kunsthalle München, Germany.

Olaf’s work is included in numerous private and public collections, such as the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum, both in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, United States; Art Progressive Collection, United States; and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia.

Visit the artist’s website here.

CV

Selected solo exhibitions

  • 2023 Erwin Olaf: A Vanishing World, Centro Niemeyer, Avilés, Spain
  • 2022 Solo show, Dance in Close-Up: Hans van Manen seen by Erwin Olaf, Galerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Dance in Close-Up, Galerie Rabouan Moussion, Paris, France
    Erwin Olaf: Perfect Moment – Incomplete World, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung City, Taiwan
    Im Wald, Hamiltons Gallery, London, United Kingdom
    Dance in Close-Up & Im Wald, Izzy Gallery, Toronto, Canada
    Solo show, The Black Diamond (Royal Danish Library), Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2021 Kunsthalle München, Munich, Germany, First German solo museum show
    Galerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Erwin Olaf – Im Wald
    Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, US, Erwin Olaf New Series: April Fool and In the Forest
    Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark, Solo show in Royal Danish Library
    Suwon Museum of Art, Suwon, South Korea, Suwon Museum of Art, Korea
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  • 2020 Izzy Gallery, Toronto, ‘Trilogy’, Solo gallery exhibition
    Gallery Kong, Seoul, South Korea, Post Covid 19, part 2 – Erwin Olaf, April Fool
    Paci Contemporary, Brescia, Italy, Paci Contemporary
    Galerie Rabouan Moussion, Paris, France, Erwin Olaf – April Fool
  • 2019 Exhibition with a selection of the acquired works at Rijksmuseum , Amsterdam, Netherlands, 12x Erwin Olaf at Rijksmuseum
    Shanghai Center of Photography (SCoP) will host a solo exhibition, Shanghai, China, Parallel
    Gemeente Museum The Hague & The Hague Museum of Photography, The Hague, The Netherlands, Anniversary Solo Show
    Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, US, Solo exhibition
  • 2018 MIS – Museu da Imagem e do Som de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil, Large multimedia retrospective
  • 2016 National Gallery, Sofia, Bulgaria, ‘Erwin Olaf – Four Series’
    Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga , Malaga, Spain, ‘Cell of Emotions’
    The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia, ‘Homage Louis Gallait’
  • 2015 Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina, ‘Erwin Olaf: The Empire of Illusion’
    Fundação Oriente Museu, Macau, China, ‘Retrospective’
  • 2014 The Museum of New Art, Detroit, USA, ‘Erwin Olaf: Breakfast in America’
    MODEM, Debrecen, Hungary, ‘Erwin Olaf: Karussell’
    Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago, Chile, ‘Empire of Illusion’
    Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku, Gdańsk, Poland, ‘Choreography of Emotions’
  • 2013 La Sucrière, Lyon, France, ‘Emotions, Installations by Erwin Olaf till 2012’
  • 2012 MMKA, Arnhem, The Netherlands, ‘Regressive’
    Gaasbeek Castle, Gaasbeek, Belgium, ‘Exquisite Corpses’
  • 2011 CerModern, Ankara, Turkey, ‘Erwin Olaf: Captured Senses’
  • 2010 Hermitage Amsterdam , Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Dusk / Dawn’
    Fondazione FORMA, Milan, Italy, ‘Vite Private’ (Private lives)
    Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘A Journey to Excellence’
  • 2009 Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel, ‘Moving Targets’
    Domus Artium 2002 (DA02), Salamanca, Spain, ‘Darts of Pleasure, Erwin Olaf 1984 – 2009’
    Institut Néerlandais, Paris, France, ‘Photographie & Video: Rain, Hope, Grief, Fall et d’autres Oeuvres’
    Fotomuseum, Antwerp, Belgium, ‘Erwin Olaf – EyeCandy 1984 – 2009’
  • 2008 Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia, ‘Selected Works’
    Southeastern Center of Contemporary Art, Salem, USA, ‘Still Living: Structure, Surface and Expression’
    Fotomuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands, ‘Rain, Hope, Grief & Fa ll’
    Space E6, Shenzhen, China, Erwin Olaf’s first exhibition on the Chinese mainland
  • 2007 City Arts Centre, Shoalhaven, Australia, ‘Elegance and Perversity’
  • 2005 Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia, ‘Elegance and Perversity’
    Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia, ‘Fashion & Style in Photography’
    Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Bologna, Italy, ‘Imitation of Life’
    MonteVideo, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Moving Targets’
  • 2003 Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, ‘Silver’
  • 1998 Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany, ‘Chessmen’
  • 1993 Kunsthal, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Joy’
    Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany, ‘Erwin Olaf’

Selected group exhibitions

  • 2022 Erwin Olaf & Hans Op de Beeck: Inspired by Steichen, Musée national d’histoire et d’art, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
    FLASH│BACK, Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands
    The Circus We Are, Le Delta House of Culture, Namurs, Belgium
  • 2021 Kunstenhuis Harelbeke, Belgium, Belgium, FUCK YOU!
    Daegu Photo Biennale, South Korea
    Annus Mirabilis, Annex, Kyoto JP
  • 2020 Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, What will the neighbours say?
    Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, Germany, Museum Morsbroich
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  • 2019 Conciergerie, Paris, France, Marie-Antoinette, Metamorphoses of an Image
    Danysz Gallery, Shanghai, China, Story Smuggler
    Hangar Art Centre, Brussels, Belgium, Photo Brussels Festival
  • 2018 Cairns Art Gallery, Cairns, Australia, Cairns Art Gallery
    Kunstforeningen GL Strand, Copenagen, Denmark, Vogue Like a Painting
  • 2017 Museum Jan Cunen, Oss, The Netherlands, Museum Jan Cunen
    Villa Rot, Rot, Germany, Villa Rot
    Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zurich, Switzerland, Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie
    Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul, South Korea, Hangaram Art Museum
  • 2016 Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, ‘After Rodin – Groninger Museum’
    K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong, China, ‘Women’s Independence’
    McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, USA, ‘Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography’
    Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Espoo, Finland, ‘In Search of the Present’
    Museum De Fundatie, Zwolle, The Netherlands, ‘Dutch Identity – Dutch Portrait Photography Now’
    Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Catwalk’
    Whangarei Art Museum, Whangarei, New Zealand, ‘Hendrik Kerstens + Erwin Olaf’
  • 2015 Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, ‘Vogue: Like A Painting’
    Fondation Francès, Senlis, France, ‘Juke Box’
    MUDAM, Luxembourg, Luxembourg, ‘Memory Lab: Photography Challenges History’
    Kasteel D’Ursel, Hingene, Belgium, ‘Sweet 18’
  • 2014 Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany, ‘Memory Lab: The Sentimental Turn. Photography Challenges History’
  • 2013 Amsterdam City Archives, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Studio Portretten’
    Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, ‘WHITE!’
  • 2012 GuatePhoto, Guatemala City, Guatemala, ‘GuatePhoto 2012’
    Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia, ‘Vanitas Contemporary Reflections’
    OCT Art & Design Gallery, Shenzhen, China, ‘Basic Instincts’
    Künstlerhaus, Vienna, Austria, ‘MEGACOOL 4.0, Jugend und Kunst’
    BIP 2012, Liege, Belgium, ‘Only You Only Me – Images of Love, Love of the Image’
  • 2011 Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria, ‘No Fashion, Please!’
    Museum De Lakenhal , Leiden, The Netherlands, ‘The Siege of Leiden’
    Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany, ‘Kunst Macht Schule’
  • 2010 Hermitage Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Alexander The Great’
    Gallerie Rudolfinum, Prague, Czech Republic, ‘Decadence Now! Visions of Excess’
    Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto, Canada, ‘Cinema X: I Like to Watch’
    CCCB, Barcelona, Spain, ‘Atopia, Art and the City in the 21st Century’
  • 2009 Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, ‘Peguena Historia de la Fotografia’
    Kunsthalle Winterthur, Winterthur, Switzerland, ‘The Non-Age’
    Museum of the City of New York, New York City, USA, ‘Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered’
    Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, USA, ‘Why Look at Animals?’
  • 2008 Museum Für Gestaltung, Zurich, Switzerland, ‘Short Stories in Contemporary Photography’
  • 2007 The Kinsey Institute Gallery, Bloomington, USA, ‘Expressive Bodies’
    FOAM, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ‘Oog / Eye’
    Phillips, New York City, USA, ‘NYC Photo’
    Chelsea Art Museum, New York City, USA, ‘Dangerous Beauty’
  • 2006 Artium, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, ‘Cross-Referenced Messages – Talk with Reality in Time’
  • 2005 Salamanca Arts Centre, Salamanca, Spain, ‘Baroque and Neo-Baroque. The Hell of the Beautifull’
    Museum of New Art, Detroit, USA, ‘Going Dutch’
  • 2004 Cultural Centre Es Pantagruélico, Santiago, Chile, ‘Foto America 2004’
  • 2002 Mostra Internazionale D’arte Contemporánea, Trieste, Italy, ‘Shock & Show. Realtra e Alternative’
  • 2001 Bienal de Valencia, Valencia, Spain, ‘The Body of Art’
  • 2000 Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany, ‘Bodies, Clothing, Surfaces’
  • 1991 Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, ‘Haks Was Here’
  • 1988 The Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK, ‘Behold the Man’

Publications

Erwin Olaf: Unheimlich Schön and Strange Beauty (Berlin: Hatje Cantz), 2021.
Erwin Olaf: I Am (New York: Aperture), 2019.
Erwin Olaf: Volume II (New York: Aperture), 2014.
Own: Works 1984-2012 (Antwerp: Lido), 2012.
Erwin Olaf (New York: Aperture), 2008.
Mind of Their Own (Amsterdam: Focus Publishing), 1995.
Joy (Amsterdam: Focus Publishing), 1993.
Blacks, 17 Royal Portraits (Amsterdam: Focus Publishing), 1990.
Chess Men: An Attempt to Play the Game (Amsterdam: Focus Publishing), 1988.

Collections

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Fnac Collection, Paris, France
Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, USA
Art Progressive Collection, USA

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Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Málaga, Spain
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León, Spain
HBC Photo Collection, New York, USA
Neuflize Vie Collections, Paris, France
Musée National d’historie et d’Art Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Fotomuseo, Bogota, Colombia
Koo House, Seojong-Myeon, South Korea
Collezione Ettore Molinario, Italy
21c Museum, USA
Susanne von Meiss Collection, Germany
Museum Arnhem, Arnhem, The Netherlands
Musée d’Art Moderne, Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg
Sir Elton John Collection, UK and USA
Collezione Ettore Molinario, Milan, Italy
Banco Espirito Santo, Lisbon, Portugal
The Franks-Suss Collection, UK
George Eastman Museum, New York, USA
West Collection, Philadelphia, USA
Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands
Rabobank, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Deutsche Leasing AG, Bad Homburg, Germany
ING Art Collection, The Netherlands
Museum Voorlinden, The Netherlands
EKARD Collection, Wassenaar, The Netherlands
Fondation Francès, Senlis, France
Orefi- Vente-Privee, Philadelphia, USA
Artium, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Randstad Collection, The Netherlands
Foto Colectania, Barcelona, Spain
Eye Film Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Centraal Museum, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Gaasbeek Castle, Lennik, Belgium
Blue Collection, Switzerland
Arad Collection, London, UK
Inelcom Collection, Spain
Coff Collection, Spain
The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, Miami, USA
Celio, Paris, France
Rosenblum Collection, Paris, France
Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague, The Netherlands
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art, New York, USA
Radboud University, Medical Centre Collection, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Generali Art Collection, Diemen, The Netherlands
Ars Fundum, Madrid, Spain
Wittenstein AG, Igersheim, Germany
Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden, The Netherlands
Collezione Lanfranchi, Milan, Italy
Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France
Van Vlissingen Collection, Switzerland
Wiyu Wahono Collection, Indonesia
The Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia
Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, Saint- Petersburg, Russia
Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, USA
Seavest Collection, United States of America

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