enable us to shape the TV canvas
as precisely as Leonardo
as freely as Picasso
as colorfully as Renoir
as profoundly as Mondrian
as violently as Pollack and
as lyrically as Jasper Johns"
Summary of Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik, known as "the father of video art," surfed the forefront of cutting edge technologies and utilized them to realize artworks, the likes the world had never yet seen. His various experiments positioned video as a viable art form, and a tool toward accomplishing widespread, global connectivity - an oeuvre eerily prophetic to our contemporary information age. His revolutionary practice laid the groundwork for today's artists working in new media art.
- Paik's early training in classical music combined with his interest in utilizing sound elements from real life, inspired by artist John Cage, positioned his career early as a member of the Fluxus movement. His passion for combining audio, visual, and electronic elements was formed there.
- A keen desire to humanize technology underlies all of Paik's work. Whether this is seen through the combination of anthropomorphic objects with video imagery of human beings, the use of a live person in dialogue with technological components, or equipment as a performance, or the forced interaction of a viewer with a particular artwork - his work incites reflection on both our relationship with technology and its affects on, and benefits for, modern man.
- Very early in his career, Paik began writing about his desire for a "video common market" that would allow for the free dissemination of not only artwork, but also education, collaboration, and dialogue on an international scale. His ideas have come full circle with the advent of today's Facebooks and Youtubes - the online platforms that draw users by the billions.
- Paik coined the term "electronic superhighway" to denote what he saw as a future in which technology would allow for boundary-less connection between people on a global scale. His term might be considered the first mention of the concept that would eventually become manifest in the Internet, and is in fact, the term used universally today.
The Life of Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik led a life of intense creativity and his trailblazing innovations set the path and inspiration for many future artists.
Important Art by Nam June Paik
After Paik's departure from Germany and before his arrival in the United States in 1964, he spent a year in Tokyo with his family where he met Shuya Abe, an engineer specialized in experimental physics and electronics, who became Paik's long-term collaborator and technical assistant. During the sojourn in Japan, Paik devised his first automated robot, Robot K-456, with Abe's help. Paik humorously named this life-sized anthropomorphic robot after Mozart's piano concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K. 456 (a catalogue number in the Köchel listing - an inclusive, chronological catalogue of compositions by Mozart). Robot K-456 is made out of bits and pieces of metal, cloth, a data recorder, wheels for walking, and a loudspeaker playing John F. Kennedy's speeches. The materials reflect Paik's long-term interest in transforming cheap, disposable objects into aesthetic forms associated with new technologies. Originally androgynous - with breasts and a penis, the robot was programmed to walk, talk, and defecate beans via twenty radio channels and a remote control. Its physical composition, hybrid-gendered nature, and remote-controlled movement embody Paik's desire to humanize robotics without hiding its bare-bone structure and materiality under the glossy metallic skin.
Robot K-456 was built for impromptu street performances, as Paik recounted, "I imagined it would meet people on the street and give them a split-second surprise, like a sudden show." It was first featured in the performance project Robot Opera (1964) at Judson Hall in New York, alongside Charlotte Moorman's cello performance, and in a series of performance-based projects through the end of the 1960s. In 1982, the robot returned to action during the artist's first major museum exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. At one point of the exhibition, Paik took the robot out of the museum to orchestrate an "accident" on the streets, a performance titled First Accident of the Twenty-First Century. The robot was made to walk up the sidewalk outside the building across Madison Avenue. While crossing 75th Street, it was struck and thrown onto the crosswalk by a car driven by artist William Anastasi. The local CBS affiliate covered the incident. When the CBS reporter asked Paik what it all meant, Paik answered that he was practicing how to cope with the catastrophe of technology in the 21st century. He also noted that the robot was twenty years old and had not had its Bar Mitzvah (the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony) yet. Playful and extravagant, the performance concluded with the "body" of the robot being wheeled into the museum. This street performance demonstrated that Paik did not see his artworks as inert and complete but rather as "living" objects that could be constantly remade and refashioned.
The hybrid, complex nature of Robot K-456, with its unexpected juxtaposition of visual materials, sounds, performances, and popular culture, embodied Paik's foresight into the future of robotics. He was also revolutionary because he claimed robotics as a viable medium for use in multimedia art, triumphantly declaring the potential for artistic innovation through technological means. Throughout his career, Paik would adamantly advocate that the artist's duty was to reimagine technology in the service of art and culture.
Twenty-channel radio-controlled robot, aluminum profiles, wire, wood, electrical divide, foam material, and control-turn out - Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnof
TV Buddha is one of Paik's best-known pieces. This sculpture centers on an 18th-century sculpture of a brassy Buddha posed with a tranquil meditation mudra (a symbolic hand gesture used in Buddhism). A video camera in front of him simultaneously records the statue and displays his reflection on a futuristic looking, sleek white television screen. In this closed circuit loop, the Buddha constantly faces his own projected image, caught in an eternal present tense and unable to transcend from his own physicality. The infinite play of the live electronics indicates that the Buddha is doomed to stay on the surface of reality forever caught in the dance between the mind and object reality.
In its simplest reading, this installation highlights the juxtaposition between the East and the West, or the historical and the modern, But more complexly, it reveals some fundamental issues brought up by technology, including the ambivalent position of religion, history, and images of our selves in contemporary society when viewed upon a screen, once removed from reality. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan states, "It is the continuous embrace of our own technology in daily use that puts us in the Narcissus role of subliminal awareness and numbness in relation to these images of ourselves."
The success of TV Buddha (1974) triggered a series of similar works by Paik. Later variations of the work include Stone Buddha/Burnt TV (1982), which features a Buddha observing a burned television without any electronic power, TV Buddha (1982), featuring a Buddha contemplating a monitor covered by a mound of dirt, and TV Rodin (1982), which places a miniature reproduction of Rodin's The Thinker on top of a Sony Watchman. The proliferance of the Buddha in Paik's work throughout the years might be seen as society's continual contemplation of its own image through the mirrors of ever-morphing technological advancements; an important introspection by the artist regarding his own ever-evolving relationship with modernity.
Video installation, closed-circuit, 18th-century Buddha statue - Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
TV Bra for Living Sculpture
Upon his arrival in New York in 1964, Paik began working with the avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman, who would become his primary collaborator until her death in 1991. This series of performances with Moorman reflects Paik's longstanding interest in introducing manipulated television to the public and his attempts to humanize television and video technology through collaboration with the body. In this string of seminal projects including Robot Opera (1964), Opera Sextronique (1967), TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969), and TV Cello (1971), Moorman's body, often in various stages of nudity, functioned as a canvas onto which Paik attached his prominent electronic objects. For example, in Opera Sextronique, staged for a private audience at the Filmmakers' Cinematheque (125 West 41st Street) in New York, Moorman performed as a topless cellist, which confronted the cultural norms of the time and resulted in her arrest for indecency. Moorman protested to the police that she was "only performing Paik's score."
TV Bra for Living Sculpture was performed by Moorman as part of the groundbreaking group exhibition "TV as a Creative Medium" at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York. Moorman, the "living sculpture" and an indefatigable performer, wore two functioning television sets over her bare breasts as she played her cello. The television screens alternately featured live television programming, prerecorded video footage, and a closed-circuit camera's live feed of the audience.
Through these projects, Paik brought video technology to a human scale and consequently redefined the medium, conventionally identified with public mass entertainment, as something accessible on an extremely intimate level. Paik reflected in 1969 on their collaboration: "The real issue implied in Art and Technology is not to make another scientific toy, but how to humanize the technology and the electronic medium ... TV Brassiere for Living Sculpture (Charlotte Moorman) is also one sharp example to humanize electronics ... and technology. By using TV as bra ... the most intimate belonging of [a] human being, we will demonstrate the human use of technology, and also stimulate viewers, not for something mean but stimulate their phantasy to look for the new, imaginative and humanistic ways of using our technology."
By collaborating with Moorman, Paik also emphasized his belief that art and technology were important tools of human connectivity paving the way for future performance/new media hybrids.
Cello, 2 television sets, microphone, amplifiers, deflection coils, "fussbedienungsgerate," cables - Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnof, PAIKN1734.01
Good Morning Mr. Orwell
Beside his long-term passion for the medium of television, Paik was also interested in exploring satellite technology as a means to disseminate information in a more democratic and efficient manner across the globe. As shown in Paik's report "Expanded Education for the Paper-Less Society" to the Rockefeller Foundation (1968), the artist predicted the rise of an "instant global university" where "a girl in Kentucky wants to study the Japanese Koto instrument, and a graduate at U.C.L.A. wants to experiment with certain Persian or Afghanistan musical instruments." The artist questioned, "How would they do this?"; and offered his own answer, "The malleable television (including videotapes) would enable individual lessons for many subjects to be given from anywhere to (everywhere)."
In order to realize his vision of a borderless world and to showcase the possibility that art could bring the world together as one, Paik produced his first major international satellite broadcast Good Morning Mr. Orwell in 1984. The televised event combined simultaneously broadcast footage of live programs in New York and Paris with video interventions by the artist, using the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer - one of the earliest machines co-designed by Paik and his collaborator Shuya Abe, which allowed the artist to alter and manipulate existing video images. The program was a rebuttal to author George Orwell's dystopian view of the effect technological advances on future society as described in his novel 1984 in which the Government surveils citizens through Closed Circuit television and turns technology into a devil; Paik intended to demonstrate, via Good Morning Mr. Orwell, the benign, or more positive effects of technology on our lives. Paik's live broadcast, a collaboration between the television stations WNET/THIRTEEN in New York and F.R. 3 in Paris, aired on Sunday, January 1, 1984, and was transmitted simultaneously to France, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, and the United States, facing over 25 million viewers. Notable artists - Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others - participated in the broadcast to create a dynamic and unprecedented program that transcended time zones and cultures. Good Morning Mr. Orwell also witnessed a crucial moment in history: as someone who had lived in East Asia, West Germany, and the United States, Paik sought to understand the world toward the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new more interconnected millennium through this project.
This work can be seen as an essential forebear to today's mass connectivity through the Internet that allows artists to share and view works on an international level outside the confines of the normal gallery, museum, or geographically static setting.
Video; color, sound. 38 minutes - Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York
Family of Robot: Baby
In the early 1980s, after experimenting with television and video images for about two decades, Paik came back to the idea of creating robots, to further his goal of humanizing technologies. Family of Robot, the first series of video sculptures that Paik created, consists of three generations of family members: a grandmother and grandfather; mother and father; aunt and uncle; and children. This family structure is a reflection of Paik's traditional Korean upbringing. The generational differences within the group are represented through Paik's conscious choice of materials, narrating a unified history of family and technology. The grandparents' heads are constructed of 1930s radios and their bodies of 1940s television frames refitted with Sony or Quasar screens, while the parents' heads are more recent than their bodies. The children are made of newer televisions. In some cases, the children's heads are two decades more advanced than their bodies, and in others, both sections are made of uniform parts. For example, the Art Institute's Baby - one of nine unique baby robots - was assembled from thirteen Samsung monitors, which at the time were the most up-to-date equipment manufactured in Korea. This group of sculptures, viewed as a whole, represent the history of media hardware evolution in the 20th century.
In order to indicate the gender difference between the robots, Paik used monitors with rounded consoles to represent females, while their male counterparts were constructed from more angular models. Each robot also has a unique personality shown through its monitors that display looped video imagery carefully curated by the artist. For instance, Baby displays an artist-created videotape which consists of flashing, vibrant images of hearts, psychedelic patterns, revolving bands and planets, and excerpts of newscasts depicting people, especially children, in Africa and India.
Albeit the robots' anthropomorphic forms, they have a relative human scale and were assembled by hand, which creates an immediate physical connection with the viewer's own body. Humanizing technology through this series, Paik encourages the viewer to "resonate" with technology and to take an active role in it rather than accepting it blindly, commenting that, "One must . . . know technology very well in order to be able to overcome it. (The purpose of video art) is to liberate people from the tyranny of TV (and its images)."
Single-channel video sculpture: thirteen television monitors and aluminum armature - The Art Institute of Chicago
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii
Electronic Superhighway - constructed of 336 televisions, 50 DVD players, 3,750 feet of cable, and 575 feet of multicolored neon tubing - illustrates Paik's understanding of a diverse nation through the lens of media technology. This work is a monumental presentation of the physical and cultural contours of America: each state is represented through a video clip that resonates with the artist's own impression of that state, suggesting that our image of America has always been molded by film and television. For example, Oklahoma shows flashing images of potatoes, while Kansas presents the Wizard of Oz. The representations of some states are based on Paik's personal connections: composer John Cage in Massachusetts, performance artist Charlotte Moorman in Arkansas, and choreographer Merce Cunningham in Washington.
In 1964, when Paik came to the United States after having lived in Japan and Germany, he was astonished by the enormous scale of America and its newly built interstate highway system which was only nine years old at the time. The highway system ambitiously connected the nation together and claimed to offer everyone the freedom to "see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet." Paik's choice of the video clips' fast speed imitates the experience of seeing the country "as though from a passing car." Echoing the physical highway system, which facilitates the transportation of people and goods, "electronic superhighway" - a term invented by Paik - suggests a network of virtual communication through the screens of televisions and home computers, which became popular in the 1980s and 1990s, with the help of cables and the Internet.
While Paik's work is generally interpreted as a celebration of the artist's utopian idea that the "electronic superhighway" allows us to share information and communicate with each other beyond geographical boundaries, this particular work can also be read as exposing the problems brought by technology. For example, the video clips allude to how each state's identity becomes homogenous and stereotypical through film and television. Also, the physical scale of the work and number of simultaneously played clips make it difficult for the viewer to absorb all details at once, resulting in what we now call "information overload." Electronic Superhighway, made before the dominance of the Internet, manifests Paik's bold vision and prescience regarding the benefits and problems brought by the information age.
49-channel closed circuit video installation, neon, steel and electronic components - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Megatron/Matrix, holding 215 monitors, resembles a hypnotic, flashing billboard. The artwork consists of two sections. The Megatron is a massive grid of monitors placed side by side in straight rows and columns. The screens show smaller clips in an array of disparate real world images from the Seoul Olympics to Korean folk rituals to modern dance. On the boundaries between screens, larger, animated images emerge, demonstrating the idea of a world without borders in the electronic age. If the Megatron conveys the vast reach of media culture, the smaller section, the Matrix, emphasizes its impact on each of us. In Matrix, the monitors are arranged in a way that the images seem to spiral inward around a lone, central screen showing two partially nude women. The artist may be suggesting that our bodies are our primal connection to the world, but like the lone screen we are surrounded by "too much information."
The piece symbolizes Paik's prophetic awareness of the power of video technology and how it is realized in the new millennium. Today, there are myriad streams of arts, imagery, or entertainment available to us at all times via the smart phone, the television, and the computer.
Eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Biography of Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik was born into a bourgeois manufacturing family in 1932 Seoul, during a turbulent time when Korea was under Japanese rule (1910-1945). Whereas most Koreans were only granted access to a primary school education under restrictions by the Japanese, Paik was trained as a classical pianist from a very young age. Perhaps this was due to the fact that his father was later rumored to be a Chinilpa, or Japanese sympathizer, whose successful business also contributed greatly to the economic capital of the time. In 1950 at the onset of the Korean War, Paik's family fled to Hong Kong, and later moved to Japan. They first arrived in the port city of Kobe and stayed at a Japanese inn for six months before they settled into a Western-style house, a rarity in those days. The house was in the seaside town of Kamakura, home of the famous Great Buddha statue that Paik often visited and which possibly inspired some of his later works, such as TV Buddha (1974).
Paik's family home was fairly high-tech house for those days, which planted seeds for his lifelong interest in emerging technologies. In 1954, Paik's family bought a large Zenith TV, which was the first television in the entire neighborhood, and all their neighbors frequently came to visit and watch it. In 1956, spurred by his hunger for this new visual medium, Paik got a Bell and Howell eight-millimeter movie camera, enabling his first amateur attempts at filmmaking.
The Paik family was quite cosmopolitan. Their home was filled with records of many classical composers including Beethoven, as well as jazz and swing. His mother drove around in a slick little German Opel. Paik formed a huge appreciation for all kinds of art. He would come to tell his nephew Ken Hakuta - an American inventor and television personality - that just buying a record, book, or magazine, was never a waste of money, even if you never listened to the music or read a word of the book. He felt that supporting artists was a worthy and essential investment.
Early Training and Work
In 1956, Paik received a BA in aesthetics from the University of Tokyo, where he also studied music and art history and wrote his thesis on the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. In 1957, he went to West Germany, which had recently emerged as a bustling center of new music and performance. While there, he studied with composer Thrasybulus Georgiades at the University of Munich for a year and then with composer Woflgang Fortner at the International Music College in Freiburg for two years.
In Germany, Paik met artists Joseph Beuys and John Cage, whose cutting-edge avant-garde actions and performances would be influential in diverting the course of his artistic career. Inspired by Cage's use of everyday sounds and noises in his music, Paik would adopt similar techniques in his own work. This would soon usher his membership into the Fluxus movement, which was formed in the early 1960s around an international and interdisciplinary group of artists, composers, designers and poets known for their experimental contributions to different artistic media and disciplines.
Paik's work rapidly began to expand outside the box of his classical training. In Hommage à John Cage (1959), he employed audiotape and performance to attack traditional musical instrumentation and compositional practices by interweaving piano chords, screaming, bits of classical music, and sound effects together. His use of introducing performative elements into audio works was revolutionary. In 1961 Paik performed Simple, Zen for Head and Étude Platonique No. 3, in which the artist's unexpected and sudden body movements accompanied his signature soundtracks. In 1962 he participated in the Fluxus International Festival of New Music in Wiesbaden - the first Fluxus event organized by George Maciunas. The next year Paik held his first exhibition - a seminal debut, entitled Exposition of Music - Electronic Television, at Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal. This marked the beginning of his transition to inventor of a new art form, which utilized Fluxus philosophies and also introduced television as a viable instrument. In the exhibition, thirteen televisions, representing individual pieces, lay on their backs and sides with their screen images altered. For example, Zen for TV (1963) reduced the television picture to a horizontal line while Kuba TV (1963) shrank and expanded the image on the television set according to the changing volume. The exhibition was also remembered for Joseph Beuys's participation, after he took an ax and smashed Paik's installed pianos into pieces.
The camaraderie Paik made in Germany with Beuys, Cage, George Maciunas, and cellist Charlotte Moorman supported his metamorphosis from musician, composer, and performer to a multimedia artist. The group often overlapped performances, colluding on elements of spontaneous surprise for audiences. In one example, Paik was playing Chopin on the piano in Cologne, after which he rushed into the audience to cut shreds into Cage and pianist David Tudor's clothes, then dumped shampoo upon their heads. These friends gradually became his extended family, cementing his role within the Fluxus movement and creating the early stage for the explorative work that would soon evolve into some of the most important art of the 20th century.
In 1963, Paik briefly returned to Tokyo. He brought with him a radical new piece of equipment that would foreshadow his eventual title as the "father of video art." The Sony Port-a-Pak was the first commercially available portable videotape recorder, and Paik started an avid experimentation with it. In Tokyo, he worked with the television technician and electronics engineer Shuya Abe, a crucial assistant in helping Paik realize his projects. Together, Paik and Abe constructed Robot K-456 (1964), Paik's first automated robot. The piece was shown in a series of performance-based projects in New York City and Germany through the end of the 1960s.
In 1964, Paik moved permanently to New York City as part of a significant emigration of artists from Europe to the United States.
Paik had been in a perpetual self-imposed "exile," until he settled in New York. The city's diversity was a source of inspiration to him and he often spoke of the heterogeneity of New York as being the great strength and possibility of the United States. The television, entertainment, and communications industries, where his lifelong interest lay, were centered in Manhattan as well. Famously, it was in New York in 1965 where the first piece of so-called "video art" was created when Paik claimed his video footage of the Pope's visit to be a serious artwork. The footage was shown, later on the day of its capturing, at a screening at the Café A Go Go in Greenwich Village. Albeit grainy, it proved a revolutionary new way to consider art.
In New York, Paik expanded his engagement with video and television, and exhibited his work at the New School, Galerie Bonino, and the Howard Wise Gallery. In 1965, while using a portable camcorder, Paik became fascinated with the transmission and manipulation of video imagery. For example, in Magnet TV (1965) the artist distorted an existing video image by placing a large horseshoe magnet on top of a black-and-white TV set. In 1969 during a residency sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation at the Boston public television station WGBH-TV, Paik was finally able to realize his dream of freely altering video image by successfully constructing a video-synthesizer (with Shuya Abe's assistance). The Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer transformed electronic moving-image making, as it was one of the earliest machines that allowed the artist to manipulate existing videos, combine images from multiple sources, and shape the TV canvas like a piece of artwork. When Paik exhibited the Synthesizer at Galeria Bonino in New York, he encouraged visitors to use it, to perform in front of the camera, and to play with their own footage, thus becoming participants and directors themselves. The interactive aspect of the synthesizer corresponded to Paik's longstanding philosophy in favor of the democratic and egalitarian sharing of technology through art. The synthesizer was also applied in his later seminal works including Global Groove (1973), Guadalcanal Requiem (1977), and Good Morning Mr. Orwell (1984).
Paik also met his Japanese-born wife, Shigeko Kubota, in New York. The two got married in 1977. Kubota, dubbed the "vice president of Fluxus" by Maciunas, not only fostered Paik's home life, but also collaborated with him on video artworks. Her influence on Paik, in terms of the exploration of the aesthetic, technological, emotive, and even organic potential of video art, merits further study.
In the 1970s, Paik continued experimenting with television and video. His philosophical TV Buddha series, first executed in 1974, playfully expressed the paradoxical relationship between technology and human spirituality, which had been under constant debate since the modern age. In these pieces, he commonly placed real life Buddha statues in front of screens on which other Buddhas were shown - spurring viewers to join in the consideration of these two very different yet parallel aspects of humanity.
In the early 1980s, Paik returned to his earlier interest in cybernetics and robotic art, and created his first series of video sculptures, which epitomized the humanization of technology. One of Paik's rare talents was that he seemed to always be one step ahead in predicting through his artwork the role that rapidly progressing technologies would have within society. One illustration, his Family of Robot, portrayed a benign relationship between the family unit and technological advancements. It was created during a time when Americans were becoming more comfortable with technology as an integral part of their daily lives: tvs, video games, and camcorders populated many homes and, by 1983, the first mobile phones became commercially available. Family of Robot initiated Paik's ongoing series of humorous and engaging robot portraits through the 1990s, many of which were based on historical figures, such as Genghis Khan and Li Tai Po, or his friends including John Cage and Merce Cunningham.
Paik's hybrid mix of media and the way he linked countries, cities, the avant-garde movements, and popular culture through his satellite productions manifested his utopian and democratic pursuit of cultural, economical, and informational connections and exchanges across the globe without borders. As he wrote in his "Global Groove and the Video Common Market" (written in 1970 and published in the WNET-TV Lab News in 1973), "What we need now is a champion to free trade, who will form a Video Common Market modeled after the European Common Market in its spirit and procedure; this would strip the hierarchy of TV culture and promote the free flow of video information through an inexpensive barter system or convenient free market." Art historian Caitlin Jones notes, "While there may be critiques of the European Common Market in both its original and contemporary forms, it is the utopian spirit of economic and cultural free trade that is ubiquitous in Paik's work."
In 1996, Paik suffered a serious stroke which limited his physical mobility. As he found himself losing health and strength, his work became more urgent. As his cherished ability to travel all over the world to find sites for his projects was sharply curtailed, Paik's style became characterized by a more self-reflective process in which he chose new forms of artistic expression reflecting his thoughts on global politics. For example, his last work, Chinese Memory (2005), included television sets painted with abstract, expressive shapes suggesting faces or indiscernible Chinese characters. This work also reflected Paik's particular fascination with China during his last years, when the rapid growth of the Chinese economy dominated the international scene and sat central within the art market spotlight.
The aging artist developed much of his late work in dialogue with his studio assistant, Jon Huffman, who remained at his side. Ken Hakuta, Paik's nephew, who visited and lived with him in Manhattan in the 1960s, came back after Paik's stroke to bring the artist's home into financial order and to create a secure and sustaining living environment for his final years. Paik died in Miami in 2006.
In 2009, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired the Nam June Paik archive, which includes objects (recordings, vintage electronics, and other source materials) and paper holdings (the artist's early writings on art, history, and technology along with performance scores, production notes, and plans for video installations). His major posthumous retrospective, entitled Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, was also mounted at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2012-2013.
The Legacy of Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik's enormous contribution to the history of late-20th-century art largely stems from his position as the first major Video artist. His groundbreaking exploration and use of modern technologies laid the foundation for a new generation of artists in today's complex media culture. Now media arts are pervasive across the international art world as artists continue to use a mix of film, video, digital media, and the Internet to create work that is visible in museums, galleries, art fairs, online, offline, and everywhere in between.
Remembered as the "father of video art," Paik left behind a remarkable legacy to subsequent generations of artists including Bill Viola and others who explore the potential of videos. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, Viola was artist-in-residence at a number of media laboratories and television stations as well as an assistant curator at Everson Museum of Art. Through these occasions, he was exposed to Paik's art. Eventually, Viola conceived of multi-channeled video installations where viewers could be surrounded by carefully arranged screens and projections, sometimes in pitch-black rooms, an idea similar to Paik's TV Garden (1974-2000) and Megatron/Matrix (1995). Paik's influence is perhaps best described by the contemporary American multimedia artist Jon Kessler: "Paik laid the groundwork for artists like me who play with the apparatus and mechanisms of the medium, turn it in on itself, and come through the rabbit hole still believing that it's possible to make engaging, playful, and serious work."
The ideas of cultural free trade that Paik wrote about and championed have been made manifest through the birth of social media and sites such as YouTube where today's artists can distribute their work freely to an international population. The possibilities offered today via the Internet hearken back to Paik's early predictions of an electronic superhighway.
Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, claims, "If Picasso stands astride the first half of the 20th century like a colossus, Nam June Paik is the center of gravity for all that was new in the second half of that hundred-year span. We are only now learning how profoundly his imagination embraced and transformed our world."
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Nam June Paik
- Nam June Paik: Global VisionaryOur PickBy John G. Hanhardt and Ken Hakuta
- Nam June Paik: Global Groove 2004By Nam June Paik, John G. Hanhardt, Caitlin Jones
- Nam June Paik: Becoming RobotOur PickBy Asia Society, Melissa Chiu, Michelle Yun
- Nam June Paik: Exposition of Music, Electronic Television, RevisitedBy Manuela Ammer, Susanne Neuburger, Nam June Paik
- Worlds of Nam June PaikBy John G. Hanhardt and Nam June Paik
- Nam June Paik: Whitney Museum of American Art, April 30 - June 21, 1982By John G. Hanhardt