Hamiltons Gallery presents Erwin Olaf’s most recent series of work, ‘Berlin’. In a significant departure from his previous projects, ‘Berlin’ is set and shot on location at six different historical locations throughout the grand city, rather than in imagined settings, constructed in Olaf’s Amsterdam studio.
Following the recent awarding of the Vermeer Prize to Olaf (the most important cultural recognition conferred by the Dutch government), this latest series further reiterates his status as one of the world’s most talented, prolific and influential artists. With ‘Berlin’, Olaf has again broken the boundaries of contemporary photographic practice. Creating powerful imagery that is at once historical and contemporary, with a tension-filled and ever-shifting narrative, the artist manages to entrance, perplex, confound and delight viewers.
Esteemed photographic critic Francis Hodgson, in his essay exploring ‘Berlin’, comments: ‘You could see Berlin as an opera. There are the grand elements from history, which are like the bits of legend or myth or biblical story that make up the plots of opera. Here are some of them: The Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity, an art-history label for the harsh realism of painters such as Otto Dix or Christian Schad). Here’s the building where John Kennedy called himself a Berliner (“lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere.”). Here is a broad hinted reminder of the great Jesse Owens, carrying off the plaudits at Hitler’s own Olympiad, and making a mockery of the Chancellor’s racism in doing so. Here’s the peculiar sub-culture of the duelling clubs, there’s a kid who looks uncomfortably like an enthusiastic recruit to the Hitler Youth, with his slicked hair and his black leather gloves. These are concrete references but not deployed to be specific. Olaf uses them to take us through a range of moods, exactly as opera does. We don’t need an exact narrative because so many of the historical references are so clear. Instead we get a set of pictures just imbued with Berlin.’
In addition to Olaf’s trademark large-format colour prints on view at Hamiltons, he presents something new to his oeuvre: small-format carbon prints, all individually self and handmade. These are mesmerizing objects, each one unique in tonality and appearance, captured through the eye of an artist and produced by the hands of a craftsman. The prints are created in an edition of only 3, using an almost extinct photographic process - intensifying the viewer’s experience of looking into the a past era, whilst remaining securely anchored in the present.
Venue: Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Place, London W1K 2EU