Cara Ober
ARTnews: Chul-Hyun Ahn at Grimaldis Gallery 08
2009
What does infinity look like? Chul-Hyun Ahn’s show of 13 mirrored light boxes (all 2008) answered this question over and over, in subtly different ways. The constructions of plywood and fluorescent light with exposed electrical cords unavoidably reference Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, but Ahn uses these industrial materials to a different end. Rather than clarifying visual phenomena without artifice, Ahn seeks to mystify.

Theatrically staged and technically precise, Ahn’s geometric compositions offered the viewer a glimpse into an exponentially receding empty space. Tunnel, the only floor piece, was the most visceral; it provoked the dizzying feeling of falling into a void of otherworldly light. Forked Series #12 and #13 create equally deep and empty spaces but are neatly contained on the wall. Thankfully, these elegant and highly resolved pieces were just a fraction of the show; Ahn’s departure from slick minimalism in the rest of the exhibit saved him from being the David Copperfield of contemporary art.

The addition of organic elements transforms Ahn’s work from simple optical illusion to lyrical metaphors for nature’s inclination to multiply and fill a void. In Branch undulating tree boughs, hacked up and arranged in diagonals, not only complicate the pristine emptiness but repudiate it. In Mu Rung Do Won (Infinite Garden) wilting houseplants and pebbles dissolve into a thousand echoes yet remain within the rigid confines of the box. The Zen-like conundrum of simultaneous artificiality and reality was infinitely more satisfying than dazzling visual effects.

—Cara Ober
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