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 the artist

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”.

April Fool 2020, 9.30am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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April Fool 2020



April Fool 2020
gives shape to the emotions and images that paralyzed Erwin Olaf after waking up to the surreal situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first reports of a lockdown in The Netherlands came to Olaf as a shock.

The gravity of the situation dawned on Olaf in his local supermarket. The shelves emptied by hoarders made him realize that for decades he had taken for granted that everything would always be there. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forsakenly he walked around, waiting for the utter unknown, afraid of an enemy he could not see. Stepping into his studio the next morning, Olaf was petrified and completely paralyzed, unsure what the pandemic had in store for him.

April Fool 2020, 9.50am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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April Fool 2020, 10.00am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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“April Fool 2020 really relates to April 2020. It’s about the emotion of the time, which at the time I thought was a universal emotion that I also experienced on the street. April Fool 2020 is about the profundity of an anxiety I had never felt before and no longer feel at this moment. Of course, we still have to live very carefully. But I wouldn’t be able to evoke that feeling of last year right now.” – Erwin Olaf

There’s also a journalistic element in April Fool 2020, just like in Im Wald. Olaf shot that series of works like it was a kind of guerrilla photography. On Wednesday in April he had formed the idea, the next day he worked it out in his studio and on Friday he already went out on the streets to shoot the photographs.

April Fool 2020, 10.05am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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April Fool 2020, 11.00am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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April Fool 2020, 11.05am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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April Fool 2020 - 11.30am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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April Fool 2020, 11.15am, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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“For me – and I’m very slow – the works were all created so fast. April Fool 2020 has been a sort of journalistic project. At the moment I don’t feel the need to give my account of corona anymore. Yet, I continue to feel an obligation to express myself about our hubris in regard to nature.”

Erwin Olaf

“I felt this story needed to be added as an additional chapter. The photo series in itself is finished and has a head and tail. Yet, the addition of this reclusiveness, the never-ending boredom, the endless walking around, circling around your tail… it’s hard to depict that with a photo camera. I felt I could best reflect these feelings by creating a private situation in which the protagonist is under constant surveillance.”

Erwin Olaf

April Fool 2020 - Movie Still , 2020

Erwin Olaf

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Film of April Fool 2020


In the video created alongside the photography series, you see the protagonist with a pointed hat in privacy. The photo series begins in the outside world and shows the hectic atmosphere of the streets and supermarkets. Moving on, the protagonist ends up in his studio and tells you what he has been through. In the video, you end up in his private world where he walks like a caged mouse on a treadmill – a reality for many people who have been locked up at home for months.

Erwin Olaf used to make a lot of video work, always alongside and in dialogue with his photography. For him, the videos create another layer to the photographs. They are never the same, always approaching another aspect of the story, something he usually cannot express in my photography. By means of sound, movement, changing camera positions and editing an extra layer to his stories are added.

April Fool 2020 - Movie Still, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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Available Prints

Each work in the April Fool 2020 series is available in different sizes, colors and prints. A color chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive Paper of 60 x 90 cm, Edition of 10 + 2 AP; A color chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive Paper of 100 x 150 cm, Edition of 10 + 2 AP; A silver gelatin print on baryta paper of 31 x 46,5 cm, Edition of 7 + 2 AP. See the index above for all available works in the series. See below images of the frames that belong to the different prints.

For more information or inquiries, please contact director Nick Majoor-Arie via nick@ronmandos.nl

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ABOUT Erwin Olaf

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. 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. Erwin Olaf will mount a large survey exhibition at Kunsthalle München, Germany, opening in May 2021.

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