Nam June Paik (백남준 白南准 1932~2006) was a pioneer media artist who applied television, video, satellite television, laser, and other technology to his experimental and creative artwork. Promoting global communication and encounters through art, Paik has been dubbed “a leading artist who was a scientist, a philosopher, and an engineer” and “a true, gifted genius and a futurist with great foresight.” The Nam June Paik Art Center opened in October 2008 in honor of Paik’s spirit of openness, diversification, and harmony. As Paik mentioned, it was built to be his permanent home, researching and building on his ideals and artistic activities.
Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist. He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the founder of video art. He is credited with an early usage (1974) of the term “electronic super highway” in application to telecommunications.
Nam June Paik then began participating in the Neo-Dada art movement, known as Fluxus, which was inspired by the composer John Cage and his use of everyday sounds and noises in his music. He made his big debut in 1963 at an exhibition known as Exposition of Music-Electronic Television at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal in which he scattered televisions everywhere and used magnets to alter or distort their images.
In 1974 Nam June Paik used the term “super highway” in application to telecommunications, which gave rise to the opinion that he may have been the author of the phrase “Information Superhighway”. In fact, in his 1974 proposal “Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away” to the Rockefeller Foundation he used a slightly different phrase, “electronic super highway”:
Paik was known for making robots out of television sets. These were constructed using pieces of wire and metal, but later Paik used parts from radio and television sets.
Given its largely antiquated technology, Paik’s oeuvre poses a unique conservation challenge. In 2006, Nam June Paik’s estate asked a group of museums for proposals on how each would use the archive. Out of a group that included the Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, it chose the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The archive includes Paik’s early writings on art history, history and technology; correspondence with other artists and collaborators like Charlotte Moorman, John Cage, George Maciunas and Wolf Vostell; and a complete collection of videotapes used in his work, as well as production notes, television work, sketches, notebooks, models and plans for videos. It also covers early-model televisions and video projectors, radios, record players, cameras and musical instruments, toys, games, folk sculptures and the desk where he painted in his SoHo studio.
Curator John Hanhardt, an old friend of Paik, says. “It came in great disorder, which made it all the more complicated. It is not like his space was perfectly organized. I think the archive is like a huge memory machine. A wunderkammer, a wonder cabinet of his life.” Hanhardt describes the archives in the catalog for the 2012 Smithsonian show in Nam June Paik: Global Visionary.
Michael Mansfield, associate curator of film and media arts, supervised the complex installation of several hundred CRT TV sets, the wiring to connect them all, and the software and servers to drive them. He developed an app on his phone to operate every electronic artwork on display.
Many of Paik’s early works and writings are collected in a volume edited by Judson Rosebush titled Nam June Paik: Videa ‘n’ Videology 1959–1973, published by the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York, in 1974.
As a pioneer of Video art, the artwork and ideas of Nam June Paik were a major influence on late 20th-century art and continue to inspire a new generation of artists. Contemporary artists considered to be influenced by Paik include Christian Marclay, Jon Kessler, Cory Arcangel, Ryan Trecartin, and Haroon Mirza.