Born in 1932, Nam June Paik was a Korean-born American artist who died in 2006 in Miami. Originally focused on music, he trained as pianist before turning to the visual arts. In the 1950s, during the Korean War, he and his family left Korea, first moving to Hong Kong, then to Japan, where Paik continued his piano studies at the University of Tokyo. His degree dissertation was on Arnold Schönberg.

Paik left Japan for Germany, where he enrolled at the University of Munich to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen introduced him to electronic music and it was during this period that Paik created his first installations bringing together sound and image. Swept up in the avant-garde movement of the time, he was a member of Fluxus along with friends and contemporaries including John Cage and Joseph Beuys.

In 1964 he moved to New York and began to collaborate with the cellist Charlotte Moorman. Together they created works that married sculpture, music and performance, including the celebrated Opera sextronique (1967) and TV Bra for living sculpture (1969).

Towards the mid sixties Paik's use of video was facilitated by the introduction of the earliest handheld video cameras. It was around this time that Paik started to make short sequences that he edited together in complex montages, marked by the notion of repetition and scansion. The television monitor, neon light and transistor radio became recurring elements in the sculptures and installations of which these filmed sequences formed a part.

Within this hybrid artistic practice, Paik saw himself as a pioneer of multimedia art, a practice that was finding new ways to evolve at the crossroads of traditional artistic categories. The omnipresence of the animated image in his work, transmitted by alternating monitors and screens (the screen is a central element in his work), in many respects prefigures the Internet and today's “screen generation” as it is often called.

Beyond the originality of the media he worked with, Paik's work is also and above all a dionysian and hedonistic celebration of life, whatever the conditions in which it has evolved. Consequently, as opposed to technophobic belief, which tends to see in technological evolution a threat (not without reason; one need only look at nuclear disasters or the silence that greets the provocative question of genetic modification in agriculture), Paik's work proposes an optimistic vision of the union between man and machine, where the machine broadens, supports and welcomes man's spiritual and material emancipation.

Paik's works resemble small altars, often — whether looked at close up or from a distance — with an anthropomorphic element that echoes the distant rumble of the great Korean and western metropoles, glittering with their brightly-lit advertising hoardings. They are also deeply imbued with pop culture iconography that bursts out with scintillating life.


Exhibition List ( Download Pdf English Version )