Erwin Olaf Follows Time Through Fashion at The Rijksmuseum
Fashion happens now. It is a physical manifestation of how a culture or an artist wants to be seen in the world. Each season offers a new set of looks that become a calling card for that time, and while there are cycles and resurgences of styles, you can trace history through fashion. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is exploring Dutch history through fashion in their latest exhibition, “Catwalk,” with the stewardship of Erwin Olaf who designed the show. With pieces that date all the way back to 1625, the exhibition utilizes the museum’s incredible collection of Dutch fashions and offers an understanding of time and cultures gone by.
Erwin’s artistry has always explored expectations and the reality of pleasant society in work that is both rich and surprising. But the show at Rijksmuseum offered a completely new opportunity. “For several years now I've been exploring alternative ways to present my photographic work and to integrate it in installations, sound, video, and films as means to immerse viewers in a world that fires and challenges their personal imaginations and, ultimately, sparks a stimulating dialogue between the viewer and the work on view," he says. As each patron wanders around the six galleries that make up the show, they enter not only an exhaustive history lesson of Dutch fashion but also Erwin’s vision for how we should understand it. A dark skinned mannequin stands with her arms extended to her sides, wearing a Piet Mondrian inspired dress, facing an army of mannequins dressed in looks that predate the 1960s. In one simple set up, Erwin reminds us how linked our clothes are to the cultures that wear them. He shows us that one dress can recall a movement, and a turn in time.
In addition to designing the show, Erwin also shot a collection of photographs that pair with the exhibit, bringing his vision to life even more acutely. In these images, Erwin infuses the emotion and gesture that aren't possible with mannequins, bringing in a context that would otherwise prove impossible. It's a balance of the human element that only Erwin can offer.
To see Erwin in action at the museum, check out the Behind the Scenes video below.