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Edwynn Houk Gallery presents “Erwin Olaf: Stages,” a retrospective exhibition

Erwin Olaf, The Farewell, 2018. Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Erwin Olaf, First Photo Shoot, 1981. Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Erwin Olaf, Still Life with Gloriosa, 2021. Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Erwin Olaf, Male Black Nude II, 1986. Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Erwin Olaf, After Rodin III – The Thinker, 2016. Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Tue, Sep 3 - Sat, Oct 26  2024

Edwynn Houk Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue, New York City

The exhibition coincides with the launch of the Foundation Erwin Olaf, which aims to perpetuate Olaf’s activism by supporting young creative queer students through project grants and mentorship.

Edwynn Houk Gallery presents Erwin Olaf: Stages, a memorial exhibition of seminal photographs from the artist’s key series centered on the concept of performance, a recurring theme in the artist’s four-decade career.

Stages includes Olaf’s 1980s documentation of Amsterdam’s gay and nightlife scenes, meticulously produced series such as Hope (2005) and Grief (2007) that dramatize social norms, and ongoing engagement with dance. These tableaux — whether occurring on a social stage, theatrical stage, or studio set— portray beautiful but not necessarily camera-ready moments, often lit by a flash of unscripted emotional experience.

Erwin Olaf emerged onto the Amsterdam photography scene in his young 20s. His first formal self-portrait shows influence from New York artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe, but also signals the thumbprint that became a signature of his aesthetic throughout his career: layering props and details in open-ended narrative relationships, leading viewers to fantasize about what story is being told. Throughout the 1980s, Olaf became a well-known and well-loved artist and gay rights activist in the Netherlands, photographing drag queens, bodybuilders, fetishists, and celebrities at discotheques and performances. Olaf’s artwork illuminated and celebrated underground scenes, claiming a spotlight for LGBTQ+ identities that expanded everyday possibilities for gay people throughout The Netherlands.

Olaf’s meticulously crafted scenes, most of which were produced entirely inside his studio, launched his career onto the international stage. His series such as Gay Couples (2008), Keyhole (2011-13), and Palm Springs (2018) show elaborately designed mise-en-scene and beautifully coiffed ensembles, yet each detail alludes to emotional tension and mystery. As the artist described, each photograph shows “a perfect world with a crack,” as if projecting a private moment to the public, holding a magnifying glass to the uncanny elements of taken-for-granted domesticity. Perfectly polished yet transgressive, these scenes peer into rooms we were told not go into, addressing social issues, taboos, and conventions. Olaf’s intimate and formal relationship with dance is the final lens onto the stage that this exhibition provides. The artist discussed ballet as a major source of inspiration for his personal work, in particular the precision and tension between beauty and gritty strength the genre requires. After Rodin (2016) evokes the sculptural characteristics of the dancers of the Dutch National Ballet, paying homage to the founder of modern sculptor and Impressionist artist August Rodin by emulating the poses of his sculptural masterpieces. Olaf’s final completed series, Dance in Close Up (2022), represents a collaboration between the artist and choreographer Hans van Manen, celebrating their shared vision of evocative gesture and the gifts of the stage


DutchCulture USA