The Nederlands Fotomuseum is proud to present the work of internationally renowned artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay, in the first-ever exhibition dedicated solely to his Polaroids. It will feature both his early and most recent works, some of which will be on loan from the Rabo Art Collection, our partner in this exhibition, documentary and publication.
Ulay (born in Solingen, Germany, 1943) pioneered the use of the Polaroid as an art medium and is widely known for his unusual experiments, such as his ‘Polagrams’, the life-size Polaroids he created by literally ‘stepping into’ a large format camera. One of his Polaroids is more than 2.5m tall.
Ulay was introduced to Polaroid in the late 1960s, when he moved to Amsterdam. Since then, he has spent much of his artistic career working with a Polaroid camera. Owing to his technical aptitude and knowledge, he soon acquired a name as an expert and consultant in the field. Polaroid was happy to provide unlimited supplies of film and the latest cameras for him to use. In the early 1970s Ulay embarked on a very personal search for identity, particularly in relation to social issues and areas of tension between men and women.
Polaroid’s instant photography was a perfect match to his need to registrate his performances. He would photograph himself dressing up and applying his makeup, meticulously capturing each and every move, often creating a complete photo series which he referred to as ‘auto-Polaroids’.
From 1976 until the late 1980s, he was closely involved with Marina Abramović, and their intense personal relationship and creative collaboration lead to radical performances, both in a physical and psychological sense. When they parted ways, Ulay returned to his Polaroid photography once more, though he no longer put himself in front of the camera. Although his quest for personal identity remained a central theme, he now pointed his lens at those in the world around him, people from all social strata – the Aboriginals of Australia, the homeless of New York, the young people of Dordrecht, visitors to the Albert Cuyp market in Amsterdam, and the young models of Chisinau (Moldova).
More recently, his work has highlighted the importance of water in sustaining life on earth. Ulay’s work can now be found in numerous museums as well as corporate and private collections worldwide.
Rabo Art Collection
The Ulay | Polaroids exhibition is a joint project of the Nederlands Fotomuseum and the Rabo Art Collection and Maria Rus Bojan, one of the authors of the book Whispers. Ulay on Ulay (Valiz, 2014), is involved as project consultant. Rabobank – the first commercial organisation in the Netherlands to build its own art collection – has been acquiring Ulay’s work since the 1990s and currently owns a number of his important Polaroid works. Since 2013, Katrin Pietsch, photo restorer at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, has been advising them on the preservation and restoration of their collection, including the Polaroids.
To complement the exhibition, a new publication will be published by Valiz with the generous support of the Rabo Art Collection in close collaboration with the Nederlands Fotomuseum to bring together all current knowledge relating to art preservation and the restoration of Polaroid photography.
During the preparations for the exhibition, Charlotte Ebers of AndersDoenProducties will be filming a documentary about Ulay and Polaroid. Made possible through the generous support of the Rabo Art Collection, this film will be showing at the exhibition.