ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Galerie Ron Mandos proudly presents Im Wald, the first solo exhibition of Erwin Olaf at the gallery. In the exhibition, Olaf – a Dutch artist who has gained worldwide recognition for his highly stylized and meticulously choreographed photographs, videos, and installations – unveils Im Wald, Ladies Hats and April Fool 2020. In these recent series of works, he draws attention to a number of global issues, including climate change and the corona pandemic, an investigation that simultaneously exposes our human frailty.
Surrounded by the overwhelming beauty of the Alpine forest, Olaf created Im Wald, his first-ever series of photographs in which nature is placed center stage. Yet, Olaf did not exclusively photograph natural landscapes. He forefronts the role of people, staging them in visually astounding settings and examining their relationship to nature. Olaf questions who we are and why we believe everything to be within our reach. He worries that we have become too hubristic, taking for granted what we think we’re owed.
Im Wald is an outspoken commentary on travelling and explores the impact of mass tourism on nature. Olaf makes an appeal to his audience to cherish and admire nature. We don’t always have to stand at the top of the mountain. Though climbing mountains is a feat of human endurance – the recent discovery of microplastics at the top of the Himalaya highlights the pollution caused by our wanderlust. Why do we have to visit these vulnerable and remote places?
Referring to Caspar David Friedrich’s Romanticism and Arnold Böcklin’s Symbolism, Erwin Olaf depicts life as a walk towards the unknown and nature as a symbol of our transience. At the age of 61, he realizes the path ahead of him is getting shorter and steeper. In one of his self-portraits, we see the artist coming to a full stop in front of a colossal rock face. In awe of the grandeur and the whim of nature, he slowly disappears into the mist.
For his series Ladies Hats, the Dutch photographer was spurred on by the fact that men stopped wearing hats, while headdresses were fashionable throughout Western art history till the late nineteenth century. Inspired by Rembrandt, Olaf adopted the technique of chiaroscuro to create a series of portraits of men wearing ladies’ hats. The models look at us with piercing and sometimes flirtatious glances, seducing the viewer with their extravagant hats and expressive poses. Yet, beneath the elegant façade of the image lies hidden a more serious story. By playing with the androgyny of his models, Olaf opposes the heteronormativity of the predominant macho culture. Above all, this series which Olaf started in 1985 and resumed working on in 2018, is a celebration of being different.
April Fool 2020
Since the beginning of his career, Olaf has stood up for marginalized groups in society, including people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. He breaks social taboos to create dialogues around contemporary themes. This pursuit is exemplified in April Fool 2020, in which the artist gives shape to the emotions and images that paralyzed him after waking up to the surreal situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Olaf depicts himself as a clown, petrified and completely unsure what the pandemic has in store for him. While time passes by imperceptibly, each photograph refers to a specific moment in time on a brisk April morning. Lost in the moment, he adopts the role of the court jester, devotedly chronicling the story of our modern society, while the seriousness of his message is overlooked or even ridiculed.