THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
Andrew Bae’s River North gallery is a small but inviting space well suited for the close observation of objects. The works in the current exhibition from artist Dabin Ahn, titled
“2 + 3,” provoke a closer look. Ahn has created objects that function like perceptual thermometers. They gauge the degree to which what we see can be influenced and even undermined by what we are looking at.
Though some pieces are visible through the gallery windows, upon entering and ascending the small staircase, the viewer is greeted by CMYK. A square substrate positioned as a diamond depicts a Delftware cup resting on a surface between four flat rectangles that represent the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or key (CMYK), palette of commercial printing.
Dabin Ahn, CMYK, 2018. Image courtesy Andrew Bae Gallery.
Stretching outward on both the left and right sides are rectangles of equal size painted on the wall. They span the gray scale, becoming lighter the further they are from the painting in the center.
It is the illusion in CMYK that sets the tone for the rest of the work. The Delftware cup and the solid rectangles of color both have shadows cast behind them. The image becomes a playful hybrid of trompe l’oeil illusionism and modernist abstraction, a blending of historicized genres that continues as a thread in Ahn’s work.
Four more pieces, including the visually jarring Juxtaposed, reference the classical academic exercise of painting drapery. Ahn’s abstractions appear to be composed of magnified cutouts that sometimes become solid colors where layers overlap.
Though a chronology is not apparent, this body of work represents a shift into new territory for this young artist. A current graduate student attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ahn previously immersed himself in the technically driven world of observational painting. A print of a painted self-portrait is featured in this exhibition. It has been modified with overlays of transparent neon plastic, a metaphor for the artist’s shift in interests and methods.
A significant part of that shift is the choice of materials. The painter includes the expected oil and acrylic on fabric while wood, plastic, brass, and have also found a place in these abstractions. It is in the works that include these materials that the traditions of painting are further poked and prodded. The works are still on the wall, but the boundary of the square or rectangle is disrupted by wooden or metallic protuberances that carry a flat image off an edge into sculptural territory.
Retina stands out as a work that, like CMYK, embraces the relationships between painting as an object, an idea, and an experience. This eye-shaped object is one of the more sculptural pieces and feels like an inside joke that can’t easily be put into words. The humor is in the perpetual feedback loop that is the eye and the image. The “retina” in Retina is a square, a reference to the images’ standard four-sided format.
Gallerist Andrew Bae says, “Beauty, to me, is harmony,” in his wall text for this exhibition. The “to me” is a subtle reminder that beauty is subjective and that there’s more to be garnered from this work. Taking beauty out of the equation, we are presented with an artist whose process develops along a dialogue with historical modes to reveal a creative logic.
Bae mentions Caravaggio as a point of reference to Ahn’s earlier work. It is clear that the artist has leapt from the realm of the classical to the modern, but the works in “2 + 3” are mired in the aesthetics of 1980’s abstraction and graphic design. CMYK not only serves as rubric for the perceptual experience that may reoccur in this exhibition but also dates the aesthetic modality to the age of print.
The CMYK color printing technique is obviously still a part of our lives, but we live in the age of RBG color-filled screens that permeate our everyday experience and shape much our visual world. Nevertheless, the foray of Ahn’s muted and primary palette into modernist abstraction and op art is a logical next step for this skilled artist in exploring new territory. Perhaps we will see more familiar aspects of our contemporary aesthetic moment in the next phase of his exploration.
Evan Carter is a contributing editor of the New Art Examiner. He earned his MFA degree in 2017 from the University of Chicago and wrote about Documenta 14 in a prior issue of the Examiner.
Dabin Ahn, Juxtaposed, 2017. Image courtesy Andrew Bae Gallery.
Dabin Ahn, Retina, 2018. Image courtesy Bae Gallery.
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