Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression

05
May
19

Exhibition: ‘Erwin Olaf’ at the Gemeentemuseum den Haag and Fotomuseum Den Haag / the Hague Museum of Photography

Exhibition dates: 16th February – 16th June 2019

Curators: Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography)

 

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Joy' 1985

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Joy
1985
Gelatin silver print

 

 

As a storyteller, Erwin Olaf is a contemporary photographer whose work addresses most current concerns of the world – discrimination, gender, sexuality, taboo, climate change, reality, equality, power, racism, freedom of expression and democracy – through staged studio and outdoor photographs of incredible technical and visual skill.

The key to his work is the twist that he gives his cinematic, perfect worlds – the hidden crack in the facade, the unhinging of the link between reality and representation. These not so perfect worlds are often inspired by stories of the past, whether those stories may be present in the works of Vermeer, the still lives of the Dutch painters of the 16th and 17th century, Caravaggio, the Olympic Games of 1936, Norman Rockwell paintings, film noir, or clothes of the 1950s and 1960s.

The stillness and silence of the photographs subjects let the viewer examine the details of the mise en scène… the perfectly placed Coke bottle and apple, the shredded American flag in Palm Springs, The Kite (2018); the bandaged knee, the dripping ice cream in Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour (2004); and also admire the beautiful textures and lighting of the finished “product”, for Olaf’s aesthetic riffs on subverting theatrical performances and magazine fashion shoots.

Olaf let’s the viewer’s eye move without restraint across the terrain of the photographs, letting them soak up the atmosphere of his hyperreal tableau vivant. Both seductive and disturbing, his photographs challenge us to interrogate our own story – who are we, what do we really believe in, and what can we do to change prejudice and bigotry in a hostile world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the Gemeentemuseum den Haag for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“What I want to show most of all is a perfect world with a crack in it. I want to make the picture seductive enough to draw people into the narrative, and then deal the blow.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“In 1982, I saw an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe in Amsterdam that blew me off the socks. I just had a Hasselblad, I was inspired by his craftsmanship and the beautiful prints, and I thought: this is what I want too. In the series ‘Squares’ (1983-93) you clearly see his influence. I started asking people that I knew from the nightlife if they wanted to pose for me in my studio, which I had decorated in a squat of a friend. For example, the boy with the champagne bottle worked in the wardrobe of my favourite disco.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

“My earliest work reflects my life in that time. I was a moth – I really loved the nightlife. In the late seventies, the early eighties was a hedonistic period: Disco and the beginning of the punk, the sexual revolution. I loved watching people play with gender, the theatrical of the nightlife, all the roles they could take.”

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Erwin Olaf

 

“The camera offered me a possibility to enter a world that was not mine. I was able to hide behind the camera, but also be part of what I saw. As a photographer, you can look at people. You’re observing. I wanted to focus my gaze on groups that were outside the ‘normal’ society. One of my first photography assignments for school had as a theme ‘what’s normal?’. I still ask myself that.”

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Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book ‘Erwin Olaf – I am’)

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography are to honour one of the Netherlands’ most famous photographers, Erwin Olaf (b. 1959), with a double exhibition. Olaf, whose recent portraits of the royal family drew widespread admiration, will turn sixty this year – a good moment to stage a major retrospective. The Hague Museum of Photography will focus on Olaf’s love of his craft and his transition from analogue photojournalist to digital image-maker and storyteller. Olaf will himself bring together some twenty photographs by famous photographers of the past who have been a vital source of inspiration to him. Gemeente Museum Den Haag will show non-commissioned work by Olaf from 2000 to his most recent series, including the work he produced in Shanghai and his most recent series Palm Springs, on display for the first time. Olaf will be showing his photography in the form of installations, in combination with film, sound and sculpture.

 

Erwin Olaf – Palm Springs: behind the scenes

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, I
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II' 1983

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
First Aids Benefit Club Flora Palace Amsterdam, II
1983
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Squares, Pearls' 1986

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Squares, Pearls
1986
Gelatin silver print

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XVII' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XVII
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“Chessmen was inspired by a chance meeting with my former photography teacher at the School for Journalism. A few years after I graduated there, I met him on the street. When I showed him my work in my studio, he said, “Say, would you like to publish a book?” He had recently taken over a publishing house for a pittance. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough work for a book. “Oh,” he said, “you only need sixty-four pages. And if you leave a page white next to each photo, you will need thirty-two photos. “At home I thought about it while listening to the radio – a chess program was just going on. At one point the presenter said: “This is an attacking game with thirty-two pieces. A war game. “I knew immediately: I’m going to make chess pieces. Those few words on the radio were all I needed; I had a clear picture in mind. Earlier I had been thinking about how I could do something with the theme of power. Power is something weird. Why do people abuse their power? Or why do you want it? Why do some people allow others to exercise power over them? From those questions came the idea of ​​a power game and the people who play it. ”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Chessmen, XXIV' 1988

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Chessmen, XXIV
1988
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Blacks, Esmeralda' 1990

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Blacks, Esmeralda
1990
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“The Blacks series is largely inspired by Janet Jackson’s album Rhythm Nation 1814. In one song, she sings: “In complete darkness we are all the same / It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us / Don’t let your eyes deceive you.” A few years earlier I had been hitchhiking to Paris and southern France, together with a friend with an Indonesian background. I was admitted without problems in all kinds of clubs, but they refused him at the door. At that time I became much more aware of the fact that the amount of pigment in your skin can have serious consequences. So when I heard Janet Jackson sing, I thought: this is my theme. I can create a group of people where everyone is equal.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I Am)

 

 

Journalistic training

Erwin Olaf was studying journalism in Utrecht in the 1980s when, having noticed that he was unhappy, one of his lecturers pressed a camera into his hands. ‘I loved the thing right from the word go,’ says Olaf, ‘the weight, the cool metal in my hand. It felt so natural. And when I took my first photographs, I knew I had found my calling.’ Olaf began taking journalistic photographs of theatre performances, worked for progressive magazines and volunteered for COC Nederland (which represents LGBTI interests). In his early work Olaf often depicted the human body quite graphically, breaching the restrictions on sexuality, the body and gender. He describes himself at that time as an angry adolescent, though his taboo-breaking work was highly significant in terms of visual freedom in the Netherlands.

 

Early work at The Hague Museum of Photography

The exhibition at The Hague Museum of Photography will start with his early work. Chessmen (1987-88) was one of Olaf’s first non-commissioned series, which came about when he was given the opportunity to produce a photobook. He had to fill 32 pages and he wanted to focus on the theme of power. He had heard an item on the radio about chess, a game of war consisting of 32 pieces. Olaf portrayed the game in a series of provocative images, featuring visible genitals, small half-naked people with kinky attributes, and extremely fat women in bondage outfits. The series did not go unnoticed. He received criticism for it, but also the Young European Photographers Prize.

 

Skill

Another early series shows the engagement that has remained important throughout Olaf’s career. Blacks (1990) is based on a song by Janet Jackson with the line, ‘In complete darkness we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us’. The series reflects Olaf’s battle for equality, and also his technical skill. In these baroque portraits, literally everything is black as coal, yet Olaf managed to give the images a rich tonality, both with his camera and in the developing process. A self-taught photographer, he has shown himself to be a master, not only of old-fashioned darkroom processes, but also of new techniques that have emerged in rapid succession since the digital revolution. He did pioneering work with Photoshop in the famous series Royal Blood (2000). Thanks to this new technique, he is even better able to experiment to his heart’s delight in his staged photography.

 

Sources of inspiration

Besides his own work, at The Hague Museum of Photography Erwin Olaf will be bringing together some twenty photographs by photographers who are his most important sources of inspiration, ranging from a vintage still life with roses by the late nineteenth-century photographer Bernard Eilers to self-portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe and Rineke Dijkstra. The work of these photographers inspired him, made him look in a different way at his own artistic practice, or pushed his photography in a new direction. By showing these pictures alongside his early work, which is imbued with his love of his craft, Olaf will give visitors to the Museum of Photography an idea of what has shaped him as a photographer.

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will begin, even before the entrance to the galleries, with the life-sized installation Keyhole (2012). The exterior has two long walls with panelling above which framed photographs hang, as in a classic interior. But visitors can watch two films through the keyhole in the doors on either side of the installation. It will be immediately apparent that the Gemeentemuseum is highlighting a new development in the work of Erwin Olaf. Here, he is going one step further, presenting his photography in exciting combinations of film, sound and sculpture.

 

Social engagement

Erwin Olaf’s work has always been highly personal and socially engaged. The clearest influence on the development of his work has been the events surrounding 9/11. Since then, the bombastic, baroque staging of his previous work has made way for more vulnerability and serenity. This has produced images that are very popular with the public: highly stylised film scenes staged perfectly down to the smallest detail, often bathed in light as if they were paintings, with an uncomfortable underlying message. As in the series Rain (2004), which appears to capture the moment between action and reaction after a shocking event. The series Grief (2007), shot in a 1960s setting, is about the first moment of response, the first tear.

Recent events are also reflected in Olaf’s work. He made the Tamed & Anger self-portraits (2015) in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. In other works he addresses issues like the position of the individual in a globalising world, the exclusion and stereotyping of certain groups of people, and taboos associated with gender and nudity. The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will thus afford a glimpse inside Olaf’s turbulent and sometimes dark mind. A visit to the exhibition will be like wandering through his head.

 

Palm Springs: final part of a triptych

Erwin Olaf’s most recent series, Palm Springs (2018), will premiere at the exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum. It is part of a triptych about cities undergoing change, the other two parts being Berlin (2012) and Shanghai (2017). The Berlin series was produced in a period when dark clouds were gathering above Europe. It highlights Olaf’s concerns about freedom of expression and democracy, and the transfer of power from an older to a new generation. Shanghai is a hypermodern metropolis in China with a population of 24 million. The series made in this city explores what happens to the individual in an environment like this. In Palm Springs, Olaf again focuses on topical issues. One of the key themes is climate change, though at the same time the images also recall the America of the 1960s. In a beautiful series of portraits, landscapes – this was the first time Olaf had photographed landscapes – still lifes and filmic scenes he refers to issues like teenage pregnancy, discrimination, religious abuses and polarisation. The series tells the story of people withdrawing into gated communities as reality invades their paradise.

 

Photographs of royal family

A very special addition to the double exhibition will be Erwin Olaf’s photographs of the Dutch royal family. As part of the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum he will bring together many of the photographs that the Government Information Service commissioned him to take of the royal family. He also took the picture that the family used as a Christmas greeting last December. ‘I’m proud of the royal family,’ says Olaf, ‘because they are a binding factor in a democracy that is sometimes very divided. I’m happy to be able to contribute to that.’

 

Successful artist

The double exhibition will show how Erwin Olaf has developed from angry provocateur to one of the Netherland’s most famous and popular photographers. His work now features in the collections and exhibitions of museums the world over, including China, Russia, The United States of America and Brazil. In 2008 The Hague Museum of Photography showed his Rain, Hope, Grief and Fall series. In 2011 he won the prestigious Johannes Vermeer Prize, and in 2018 the Rijksmuseum purchased almost 500 photographs and videos by Erwin Olaf.

 

Biggest retrospective to date

Together, the exhibitions at the Gemeentemuseum and the Museum of Photography will constitute the biggest retrospective of Olaf’s work ever staged, spanning the period from the early 1980s to his most recent work. In the words of Erwin Olaf: celebrating 40 years of visual freedom.

The double exhibition has been curated by Wim van Sinderen with the assistance of Hanneke Mantel (both of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography), and has come about in close collaboration with Erwin Olaf and his studio.

Press release from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag [Online] Cited 04/05/2019

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Royal Blood, Di, †1997' 2000

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Royal Blood, Di, †1997
2000
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

“I made the Royal Blood series to celebrate Photoshop as the new craft. I wanted to make something that was clearly fiction and would be impossible without Photoshop. A theme that was in the air at the time was that violence was suddenly identified with glamor. I never understood why criminals, even murderers, have fans. People worship them! And every cinema is chock full of people watching violence every week. I wanted to expose the attraction of blood, violence and celebrity – that live fast, that young ideal. Now I could no longer do this type of work. The emotion behind it has disappeared – I have already told that story. But it remains an important part of my legacy.”

Erwin Olaf (excerpt from the book Erwin Olaf – I am)

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour' 2004

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Rain, The Ice Cream Parlour
2004
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Hope, The Hallway' 2005

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Hope, The Hallway
2005
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Berlin, Freimaurer Loge Dahlem, 22nd of April, 2012 [Masonic Lodge Dahlem]
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Keyhole #6' 2012

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Keyhole #6
2012
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2' 2017

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Shanghai, Huai Hai 116, Portrait #2
2017
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Kite' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Kite
2018
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Erwin Olaf

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959) 'Palm Springs, The Family Visit - Portrait I' 2018

 

Erwin Olaf (Netherlands, b. 1959)
Palm Springs, The Family Visit – Portrait I
2018
© Erwin Olaf
Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London / Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

 

 

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 17:00

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag website

Fotomuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 43
2517 HV Den Haag

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 17.00
The museum is closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Den Haag website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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