Erwin Olaf, Hotel, Dusk & Dawn @Hasted Hunt Kraeutler

JTF (just the facts): A total of 21 color images and 2 videos, alternately framed in black or white with no mat, and hung the entry and three main rooms of the gallery. (Installation shots at right.) The works were all made in 2009 and are broken into three separate projects. The details for each are as follows:

Dusk: 6 Lambda prints on Kodak Endura. The portraits and still lifes come in two sizes: 29×18, in editions of 12, and 50×31, in editions of 10. The large interior scenes also come in two sizes: 32×57, in editions of 12, and 52×94, in editions of 10.
Dawn: 6 Lambda prints on Kodak Endura. The portraits and still lifes come in two sizes: 29×18, in editions of 12, and 50×31, in editions of 10. The large interior scenes also come in two sizes: 32×57, in editions of 12, and 52×94, in editions of 10.
Hotel: 9 Lambda prints on Kodak Endura. The portraits come in two sizes: 32×24, in editions of 12, and 54×41, in editions of 10. The wider room scenes also come in two sizes: 25×44, in editions of 12, and 41×72, in editions of 10.The Dusk/Dawn videos come in an edition of 5.

Comments/Context: In the past decade, we have seen a flowering of photographic work that is overtly staged and constructed, where narratives have become more cinematic and controlled, far beyond the reaches of simple documentary truth. In his previous work, the Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf has used this style of picture making to create a wide variety of unsettling and tension filled scenes; regardless of the specifics of the scene he has set, there is always a sense of mystery and ambiguity, of not being able to entirely understand exactly what is going on. Anxiety, restlessness, agitation, and yearning are repeatedly mixed together into a potent cocktail of pregnant emotional overtones, sometimes amplified to the point of caricature.
The three new projects on view in this show continue in this same general direction, although with more nuance. The Dusk and Dawn series pair opposites of white and black, creating an environment reminiscent of a 19th century gothic novel or fairy tale. The Dusk series is entirely black: dark black rooms, black people, black clothing, black furnishings; the Dawn series takes the corollary – white rooms, white people, white details and accoutrements. And yet the scenes are perfectly paired and synchronized (as seen in the double video); both mothers try to put their babies down (singing lullabys, rocking the crib, reading) amid the racket of boys playing ball and fathers sawing wood, all within a stiflingly upper class setting. The effect is uneasy and disconcerting, full of indefinite hesitation and fidgety waiting.
The Hotel series carries a heavier weight, dragged down by weary indifference, but is more successful in terms of creating a sustained sensibility. In these scenes, beautiful women (most nude or semi-clothed) are posed in timeless boring hotel rooms, languishing on tacky bedspreads or lounging on forgettable desk furniture. A few of the scenes have a stylized Helmut Newton feel, but most are full of monotony and apathy, the tedium of the dated noir setting dampening any eroticism that might have been present in the scantily clad tenants. Again, the images have Olaf’s signature tension, the clever mix of listlessness and uncertain anticipation.All of these images have a dreamy, almost airbrushed perfection to them; the narratives and characters have been formalized to the point of convention or ritual – they are no longer specific people or events, but generalized representations of something more abstract. Put in the context of his previous work (like the projects Grief or Hope), Olaf seems to be working his way down a long list of subtle human emotions, creating allegorical depictions of invisible feelings and conflicting moods that typically resist easy documentation. When he gets the disquiet just right, his works are the exact opposite of cool, unemotional contemporary photography; the images shimmer with stylized charged atmosphere, strong emotions teetering on the edge of breaking through the self-imposed restraint.

Collector’s POV: All of the works in this show are priced in escalating editions, with various intermediate prices along the way depending on the location in the edition. The Dusk and Dawn series images are priced in the same way, as follows:Portraits/still lifes:
29×18 – $5500 to $12000
50x 31 – $8250 to $12750

Large interiors:
32×57 – $8250 to $14000
52×94 – $14000 to $21000

The Hotel images are priced as follows:

32×24 – $10250 to $13500
54×41 – $16250 to $21000

Wide rooms:
25×44 – $10250 to $13500
41×72 – $16250 to $21000

The pair of Dusk/Dawn videos is priced between $17500 and $24500.Olaf’s work has just started to enter the secondary markets in the past few years. Prices have ranged from $2000 to $40000.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews: (here), New York (here), T Magazine blog (here), NY Times, 2006 (here)

Erwin Olaf, Hotel, Dawn & Dusk
Through March 20th

Hasted Hunt Kraeutler

537 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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