Erwin Olaf at Annex, The Museum of Kyoto during Kyotographie festival

Erwin Olaf’s exhibition Annus Mirabilis  is now on display in Annex, The Museum of Kyoto during Kyotographie festival. Kyotographie is an  acclaimed annual international photography festival and one of the few international artistic events taking place in Japan. At the festival valuable collections of photography and works by internationally renowned artists are presented outside the traditional gallery format.  Instead the exhibitions work in harmony with the elegant, historical buildings as well as modern architectural spaces in which they are shown. The festival aims to get recognition for photography as an art form.

Annus Mirabilis articulates Erwin Olaf’s view of the pandemic that humanity confronted in 2020. The exhibition consists of Olaf’s series: “Im Wald” and “April fools” and can be visited till October 17, 2021.


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.

April Fools
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.