Not long left for Tate Modern’s major exhibition of the work of visionary Korean-born artist Nam June Paik. Renowned for his innovative use of emerging technologies, Paik’s playfully entertaining work remains an inspiration for artists, musicians and performers across the globe.
Over 200 artworks, photographs, films and archive objects are brought together in a mesmerising riot of light and sound, from rarely seen early experiments to large-scale immersive installations.
Nam June Paik (1932-2006) developed a collaborative and interdisciplinary practice that foresaw the importance of mass media and new technologies, coining the phrase ‘electronic superhighway’ to predict the future of communication in an internet age.
He has become synonymous with the electronic image through a prodigious output of manipulated TV sets, live performances, global television broadcasts, single-channel videos, and video installations.
To introduce Paik’s radical world, the exhibition opens with TV Garden 1974/2002. This large-scale installation explores diminishing distinctions between nature and technology, comprising dozens of television sets that appear to grow from within a garden of lush foliage. Paik’s first robot work Robot K-456 1964 is also on display and a room is dedicated to screening three of Paik’s ground-breaking satellite videos. Broadcast throughout the 1980s, these ambitious works feature icons of popular culture including Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie and Lou Reed, defining the ‘MTV aesthetic’ of the era.
The artist also played a pivotal role in Fluxus, an international network of avant-garde artists, composers, designers and poets, through the cross-germination of radical aesthetics and experimentation. Born in South Korea, but living and working in Japan, Germany and the USA, Paik collaborated with a global community of cutting-edge artists. The show highlights key creative partnerships with composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham and artist Joseph Beuys. Paik’s collaboration with cellist Charlotte Moorman was also deeply significant for both artists, who developed a repertoire of provocative performances incorporating Paik’s TV sculptures within elaborate costumes and props. The exhibition includes TV Cello 1971 and TV Bra for Living Sculpture 1969, alongside videos and photography of their performances.
A room is devoted to Paik’s pivotal first solo exhibition, Exposition of Music – Electronic Television. Several of the original artworks are brought together again, including prepared pianos and musical instruments, alongside examples of the artist’s earliest manipulated televisions. Further highlights include seminal works that demonstrate the influence of Zen, Taoism and wider Buddhist philosophies in Paik’s approach to art and technology, including TV Buddha 1974 and One Candle 1989. The exhibition culminates with the dazzling installation Sistine Chapel 1993, recreated for the first time since Paik was awarded the Golden Lion for the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale over 25 years ago.
Nam June Paik is curated by Sook-Kyung Lee, Senior Curator, International Art, Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational, Tate Modern, and Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media Arts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, with Valentina Ravaglia, Curator, and Michael Raymond, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and National Gallery of Singapore.