The Korean photographer Ahae takes snapshots of the wild environment as seen from the same window at his home near Seoul, which at a new exhibition at Versailles are juxtaposed with the precision of Le Notre's gardens.
The 72-year-old Korean enigma that is Ahae has lived many lives. He is an artist trained in drawing, painting, sculpture and mask making. He is a martial arts expert, holding the seventh degree black belt in Taekwondo. He is an inventor, having registered over one thousand patents for products that range from household goods to boats. He is an entrepreneur who founded his first company aged 35 and who became a billionaire due to the success of his businesses. He is a conversationalist who practices organic farming and has always sought to protect the environment. And, as a new exhibition at Versailles attests, he is a talented photographer.
In fact, The Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, which is the title of the exhibition within the Orangerie at Versailles, fuses many of Ahae’s passions. Showcasing snapshots that were all taken from just one window of his studio in a disued aircraft hanger an hour’s drive from Seoul, the photographs are of a wild, undisturbed nature – his garden, its birds, ponds, deer, the sun and the moon. The message about conservationism is clear and is particularly evident in the images that show the change of seasons, with winter and summer in Korea becoming longer in recent years.
Famous reclusive, Ahae refuses to be interviewed by the press or even to attend his own exhibitions. Ahae’s son and manager of his exhibitions, Keith Yoo, offers the only explanation of his work, describing it as, “a silent warning about global warming and our mentality.”
But more than just a subtle environmental campaign, Ahae’s photographs at Versailles are pure art. The candid snapshots of Ahae’s wild, natural view is juxtaposed with the manicured precision of Le Notre, the influential landscape architect who carefully organised the gardens at Versailles (the exhibition is part of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Le Notre). The contrast is similar to that of the effect of the exhibitions of Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami sculptures that in recent years have been exhibited within Versailles. Another concurrent exhibition at Versailles of the tree sculptures of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone presents an altered view of nature that also jars with the reality portrayed by Ahae.
Critics who have visited The Extraordinary Within the Ordinary talk of references to Paul Nash paintings and Monet watercolours. Certainly, the images of the ripples of the pond within sight of Ahae’s window can appear abstract.
Then there is the fact that the photographs at Versailles are a technical feat being the largest prints ever made on a single piece of paper.
But it his creative process that truly reveals the art in the Ahae’s photographs. Taken over four years and never missing a day, Ahae took 2.6 million images, of which 220 are exhibited at Versailles. Highly conscious of shooting only reality, he works with no tripod, no artificial lighting and not even air conditioning. The result is what Ahae descrbies as an “organic” image – yet another environmentally minded invention from the enigma of Ahae.
THE INSTANT THAT BLENDS WITH ETERNITY
“I remember my first meeting with the son of the Korean artist Ahae during the 2012 Louvre exhibition inauguration in the Jardin des Tuileries, at the invitation of Henri Loyrette. Mr. Yoo used simple words, filled with admiration, to describe his father’s unique work. He spoke about his own mission to reveal that work to people today who—caught up in the frenzy of modern-day life—do not have the time to stop and discover the world from a single window.
“Extraordinary in the ordinary,” Henri Loyrette said with the acuity of language that over the past twelve years has accompanied the strength of his choices made at the helm of the Louvre Museum.
From the same window, from dawn to dusk, every day of the year, Ahae embraces the world, and it is the infinitely small that provides the immensity of the landscape he offers us. And here, these seemingly insignificant details paint an entire fresco. Behind the modesty of the photographer’s gesture lies the extreme sophistication of poetic thought. The instant that blends with eternity.
This year, I invited Ahae to present a new set of photographs taken from the same window at the Palace of Versailles. The scenography designed by Guy Oliver at the Orangerie allows us to observe the unexpected beauty of Ahae’s world as the hours and seasons pass: “The extraordinary within the ordinary.”This year, history calls on us to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of André Le Nôtre. Ahae’s exhibition takes place—with a certain irony that is not unknown to him—during this year we are dedicating to the gardener of the King. Indeed, Ahae embodies his antithesis. While Le Nôtre dominates nature and molds it to suit the King’s will, Ahae lets himself be swept up into it, in all of its forms. On the other side of the world, from his own room, Ahae illustrates the words of Marcel Proust: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
And I have the pleasure of inviting you on this voyage. I would like to thank Keith Yoo for making it possible. Magical.”
- Catherine Pégard / President of the Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles
"There are times in our lives when serendipity accelerates events and the exceptional can occur. In September last year I sat next to the guest of a mutual friend at a lunch in Malaysia. He told me about an artist who had created a grand experiment, taking one million photographs in two years. What is more remarkable than this unprecedented feat is that the photographs were taken, and continue to be taken, from a single window.
The photographer Ahae (a name which means “child” in ancient Korean) has faithfully captured his vision of a landscape carefully preserved and protected for the last two decades. He invites us to see the extraordinary in the apparently ordinary. A change in light or a change in the weather can make an object appear quite different. The same water surface can resemble rock or a pool of mercury, the silhouette of a bird caught in the sunlight like a delicate drawing..."
- Henri Loyrette, Director, Louvre Museum, Paris
Excerpt from Foreword of Ahae: Through My Window published by Assouline
Buy online: http://www.assouline.com/9781614280712.html
The Extraordinary Within the Ordinary
Until September 9 at Versailles
Ahae: Through My Window published by Assouline
Buy online: http://www.assouline.com/9781614280712.html