In Memoriam: Erwin Olaf

We are deeply saddened by the loss of the talented and revered Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf.

A cultural icon, LGBTQI+ advocate, visual activist, and visionary artist, his work touched hearts and minds worldwide. Erwin was a source of inspiration for his unparalleled artistic skill, for his magnetism, and for his sensibility.

His work, spanning four decades, graced galleries and museums worldwide, including our very own. Erwin was not just an esteemed collaborator but also a dear friend to our gallery. His impressive, emotional images challenged perceptions and inspired countless visitors and artists over the years.

“The loss of Erwin Olaf is deeply personal to me. Over the years, our bond grew not just through art but in the many candid moments we shared. Erwin’s smile was genuine and contagious, and his charisma touched all those around him. I remember how his presence always made occasions brighter. It was always a pleasure to be in his company as his wit and laughter complemented his wisdom and inspiration.

Erwin was a visionary — not only a true artist, but a brave advocate as well. His devotion to the LGBTQI+ community showcased a courage that went beyond photography, demonstrating his commitment to equality, change, and respect.” – Ron Mandos

Our team has had the privilege of working closely with Erwin for many years. As we mourn his passing, we also celebrate his enduring legacy that will certainly continue to inspire future generations.

The entire team at Galerie Ron Mandos deeply mourns this loss; our condolences go out to his family, friends, and all who were touched by him and his work. The art world has lost a visionary, but Erwin Olaf’s brilliance will never fade.

Ron Mandos
Team Galerie Ron Mandos

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.