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.

Im Wald

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.

Ladies Hats

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.

ABOUT Erwin Olaf

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.