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Basic Data

Olaf Nicolai is one of the leading German artists of the contemporary. Olaf Nicolai comes from Halle an der Saale, Saxony-Anhalt. His interested in fine arts is paired with a passion for languages. Olaf Nicolai studied German studies, but priorly attended an evening course at the Fachhochschule für angewandte Künste Schneeberg.

  • Born: 1962
  • Place of birth: Halle an der Saale, Saxony-Anhalt
  • Nationality: German
  • Studied at: Universität Leipzig
  • Similar artists: Carsten Nicolai, Via Lewandowsky
  • Era: Contemporary art
  • Stylistic direction: Conceptual art, figurative art

Olaf Nicolai is considered to be an important representative of contemporary art in Germany. 



Olaf Nicolai was born in 1962 in Halle an der Saale and grew up together with his brother, the well-known artist and musician Carsten Nicolai, in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz). He studied and earned a doctorate in German language and literature at the University of Leipzig. In the early 1990s, he exhibited his works for the first time in numerous solo and group exhibitions. He participated in documenta X as well as the 49th and 51st Venice Biennale and also received numerous prestigious awards. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Nicolai has been a professor of sculpture and fundamentals of three-dimensional design since 2011.

In his conceptual work, Olaf Nicolai illuminates processes of perception to evoke a new form of reception. In addition to classical, artistic techniques, he also integrates other activities of artistic production. In doing so, he primarily aims at the construction and exploration of new aesthetic contexts and reflects on the difference between artificiality and naturalness, between art and nature. In doing so, his mostly site-specific works often deal with temporal-political or cultural issues and address topics such as natural science, architecture, aesthetics, iconography, history and natural science.

Currently Olaf Nicolai lives and works in Berlin. 



  • 11.06.2021 - 03.12.2021 30 Jahre KW: - Auktion in Kooperation mit Grisebach – KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.
  • 10.09.2021 - 10.10.2021 Olaf Nicolai - Oskar. Eine Camouflage - NS-Dokumentationszentrum München, Munich.
  • 28.08.2021 - 29.08.2021 Wechselraum – Ehemalige Gießerei, Chemnitz.
  • 26.06.2021 - 24.10.2021 Paradise Kortrijk 2021 - Kortrijk Triennial / Paradise Kortrijk.
  • 17.06.2021 - 31.10.2021 14. Krasnoyarsk Biennale - Biennale Krasnoyarsk.
  • 30.04.2021 - 09.05.2021 Die Balkone 2 - Scratching the Surface - Die Balkone Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.
  • 15.05.2020 - 25.10.2020 GEGENWARTEN | PRESENCES - Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz / Museum Gunzenhauser.
  • 30.04.2016 - 21.12.2019 Olaf Nicolai. Baraque de Chantier - Kunstmuseum Thurgau.
  • 01.03.2019 - 11.09.2019 HYPER! - Deichtorhallen Hamburg.
  • 21.11.2019 - 27.01.2019 Revolutionize. Reflections on revolutionary history unfolding in the present - Mystetskyi Arsenal Kiev.
  • 13.07.2018 - 07.10.2018 Olaf Nicolai. There Is No Place Before Arrival - Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna.
  • 16.06.2018 - 09.09.2018 Olaf Nicolai - Chant d'Amour - Kunsthalle Bielefeld.
  • 08.11.2017 -  28.01.2018 Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: 1989–2017 - Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna.



  • 2018: Wilhelm-Loth-Prize, Darmstadt.
  • 2017: Karl-Sczuka-Prize, Baden-Baden.
  • 2002: Artprize 'Junge Stadt sieht junge Kunst', Wolfsburg.
  • 1999: Bremer Artprize.
  • 1998: Fellowship Villa Massimo, Rome.
  • 1996: Botho-Graef-Prize, Jena.



  • 30 Farben: language of color, exhibition catalog, Bonner Kunstverein (Publ.), Leipzig 2019.
  • Olaf Nicolai: Enjoy, Survive - Survive, Enjoy, exhibition catalog, Robert Klanten (Publ.), Leipzig 2019.
  • Le pigment de la lumière, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (Publ.), Leipzig 2015.
  • Dopplereffekt. Bilder in Kunst und Wissenschaft, exhibition catalog. Petra Gördüren, Dirk Luckow (Publ.), Kiel 2010.
  • Olaf Nicolai, "rewind" - forward", exhibition catalog, Susanne Pfleger (Publ.), Ostfildern-Ruit 2003.
  • Bubblegram - a street surfing painting, exhibition catalog, Kunsthaus Bregenz (Publ.), Berlin 2000.


Own Writings

  • Wir schauen auf die Wolken in den Bildern, sie halten uns gesund, exhibition catalog, Olaf Nicolai with Maximilian Schachter, Vienna 2019.
  • Four times through the labyrinth, Olaf Nicolai & Jan Wenzel, Leipzig, Zurich 2012.
  • Noms de guerres, Olaf Nicolai, Leipzig 2012.
  • Constantin, Olaf Nicolai, Leipzig 2008.