Biography

Born in 1959 in Hilversum, The Netherlands
Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Erwin Olaf is an internationally exhibiting artist whose diverse practice centers around society’s marginalized individuals, including women, 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 has 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 has 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 has been 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.

Erwin Olaf has 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, he will mount solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle München, Germany; the Suwon Museum of Art, Suwon, Korea, and will have his first solo exhibition at Galerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 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.

CV

Selected solo exhibitions

  • 2021 Kunsthalle München, Munich, Germany, First German solo museum show
    Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark, Solo show in Royal Danish Library
    Suwon Museum of Art, Suwon, South Korea, Suwon Museum of Art, Korea
  • 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
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  • 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

  • 2020 Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands, What will the neighbours say?
    Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen, Germany, Museum Morsbroich
  • 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
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  • 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: 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 Voorlinde, 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