Harper’s is pleased to announce Water, Space, California, Young-Il Ahn’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, featuring recent and historical work by the late artist. The exhibition opens on Thursday, May 19, 6–8pm.
Born in 1934, Ahn lived through a tumultuous period of political and civil unrest brought on by colonial rule (1910–1945) and the Korean War (1950–53). Yet, despite the hardships of the time, he was known as an artistic child prodigy and began exhibiting at nationwide invitational exhibitions from an early age before graduating from Seoul National University in 1958. Following his education, Ahn continued to work as an artist in Korea, where he was well received by the art market and remains a major figure. Despite his successes, however, the turbulent post-war economy provided no promise of a stable future for Ahn, prompting him to immigrate to the United States in 1966, where he found a home in Southern California, enamored by the sweeping vistas and cerulean seas.
Though best known for his Water series, an iconic part of his oeuvre that was prominently featured in his 2017 solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ahn’s practice spans multiple series produced throughout his long and prolific career as a visual artist. Water, Space, California presents three such series in conversation: the Space series, created in 1992, comprises just a few minimal compositions featuring blurred chromatic rectangles on pure white substrates; the California series, distinguished by their tetradic color schemes that capture the prismatic refractions of sunlight on the Pacific coast; and a range of works from the Water series, in which Ahn expertly leveraged color, scale, and the phenomenon of simultaneous contrast to engulf the viewer in atmospheric color fields.
Marking Ahn’s first major presentation in New York City, Water, Space, California traces his story across more than three decades—further elaborating the art historical contributions of the late artist, whose visionary work uniquely embodied facets of both the American and Korean zeitgeist and pioneered a nuanced diasporic dialogue that continues today with ever more urgency and importance.
Young-Il Ahn (b. 1934, Gaeseong, Korea; d. 2020, Los Angeles, CA) received a BFA from Seoul National University in 1958; in 1966, he resettled in Los Angeles, which remained his home for the following five decades until his death in 2020. Ahn’s work has been the subject of major surveys, including Young-Il Ahn: Reflection, Kavi Gupta, Chicago (2021); Young-Il Ahn, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA (2017); Unexpected Light: Works by Young-Il Ahn, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2017); Before Water, Gallery Sesom, Changwon, KR (2016); A Memoir of Water, Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach (2015). Ahn’s work is included in numerous public collections including Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul. The estate is represented by Harper’s in New York.