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Born in 1959 in Hilversum (the Netherlands), lives in Amsterdam.
Erwin Olaf’s art visualizes implicitly the unspoken, the overlooked, that typically resist easy documentation. Olaf’s trademark is to address social issues, taboos, and bourgeois conventions in a highly stylized and cunning mode of image making. With his razor-sharp aesthetic intuition, Olaf purposely conceals his themes, so that the viewer has to accept the initial concealment in Olaf’s photo series. Yet in the end, his unconventional style never misses to deliver dramatic visual and emotional impact.By taking care of the scenic and lightning design, and the utmost perfect composition in his typical, immaculate ‘Olafian’ way, together with his passion for flawlessly conceiving scenarios, Olaf vividly captures the essence of contemporary life.
Mixing photojournalism with studio photography, Olaf emerged on the international art scene in 1988, when his series Chessmen was awarded the first prize in the Young European Photographer competition. This award was followed by an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany in the same year. Deliberately disturbing and intended to raise awareness, Olaf committed himself in his earlier work on the subject of social exclusion in which he explored issues of class, race, sexual taste, beliefs, habits and grace. In his recent series Rain (2004), Hope (2005), Grief (2007) and Fall (2008) Olaf challenges the notion of domestic bliss. Dusk (2009) and Dawn (2010) show how culture can become repression, despite a beautiful appearance. A similar disengagement takes place in Olaf’s Hotel (2010) series in which he explores the subtle range of detached melancholic emotions in dimly-lit exquisitely furnished 1950s hotel rooms.
Erwin Olaf has had numerous important group and solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including George Eastman House, Rochester, USA; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Chelsea Art Museum, New York; Kunsthalle, Winterthur, Switzerland and the Museum of the City of New York, New York. Solo exhibitions include Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Bilbao Art Centre, Bilbao, Spain; Groninger Museum, Groningen; MonteVideo, Amsterdam; Modern Art Gallery of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia; The Hague Museum of Photography, The Hague; Photo Museum Antwerp, Antwerp; Institut Néerlandais, Paris; Domus Artium, Salamanca; Hermitage, Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. His work is part of the collections of Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; Centraal Museum, Utrecht; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Groninger Museum, Groningen; Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany; FNAC Collection, Paris; CaldicCollection, Rotterdam; Rosenblum Collection, Paris; Orefa Collection, Paris.