Nam June Paik

by Yule Heibel on January 31, 2006

Nam June Paik died in Miami on January 29 at the age of 73. Even though I never made video installations when I was still a sculpture student at the Munich Art Academy in the late 70s, Paik was definitely one of those influential artists who forced anyone working in sculpture to look at materiality, at the stuff of what goes into sculpture — whether object or installation — in a persistently different way. Fluxus put the flow in icons.

Here are some links to interesting biographies/ obituaries:

The Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung online calls him the anti-technological technologue — Paik showed us how free one could be in interacting with technology. Paik, who didn’t take too much stock in making his work “perfect,” is quoted as having said, “if too perfect, god angry,” which I guess underscores the artist’s role as a player vs a god. Artists play (which is why I get so annoyed at artists who take themselves so goddamn seriously, who never seem to evince any sense of humour, as though we’re supposed to take their work as timeless and eternal creation while they play the Misunderstood Genius…).

The Korea Times places Paik in a national, albeit cosmopolitan, context — clearly a political gesture:

It was in 1984, however, that the U.S-based creator became known to his compatriots through “Good morning, Mr. Orwell,” a global art project linking New York, Paris, Berlin and Seoul by satellite. The parody of an Orwellian totalitarian society gave a fresh shock to Koreans oppressed by military “big brothers.” It was an apt reminder of the then grim reality.

Paik was both a Korean and a cosmopolitan. Most of his artistic studies and activities were done abroad, including the United States, Germany and Japan, but his spiritual fount remained in his fatherland, where he lived until graduating from high school. So it is regretful that some web surfers here denigrated the international artist by taking issue with his U.S. nationality and Japanese wife. This is a most childish and narrow-minded way to treat one of the greatest artists Korea has produced.

The deceased artist used to stress the need for active advances overseas by Koreans, following the aged tradition of nomadic ancestors. Paik also called for his compatriots to have “strong teeth” to digest any foreign influences and use them for their own good. In an interview some years ago, the “cultural terrorist from Asia” said he would never give out his love of motherland, while noting that there were an increasing number of chauvinists in Korea. Malignant Internet users should take heed.

Some critics downgraded his works as just “plays,” not art. The artist, known for his ceaseless challenge and renovation, countered, saying, “Art is a fraud.” There may be different evaluations of this controversial artist and his 74 years of life, but one thing seems certain _ Paik never stopped trying to expand the horizon of the artistic world in his own unique ways, winning him global recognition. Even until his moment of passing, he was producing new works, both here and in the U.S. [More…]

The New York Times points out that Paik “exaggerated and subverted accepted notions about both the culture and the technology of television while immersing viewers in its visual beauty and exposing something deeply irrational at its center. He presciently coined the term “electronic superhighway” in 1974, grasping the essence of global communications and seeing the possibilities of technologies that were barely born. He usually did this while managing to be both palatable and subversive.

The Mercury News notes that, aside from inventing the phrase “‘Electronic Super Highway’ years before the information superhighway was invented,” he is also credited with coining the expression, “The Future is Now.” Take that!

The Los Angeles Times writes, “Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, said Paik was ‘the first artist to realize the potential of television, the idea that it was going to be all around us and change the culture.’ Despite Paik’s fascination with that phenomenon, Schimmel said, ‘one of the beautiful things he did was to disrupt the sophistication of electronic technology.'”” The article quotes John Hanhardt, a senior curator of film & media arts at the Guggenheim in New York: “One of the great achievements we look to from artists is to significantly contribute to making us see ourselves and the world around us in new ways.”

Another Korea Times article obsesses about the funeral arrangements — I don’t know why I find this interesting, but I do. Paik’s ashes, according to his family, will be shared by New York, Berlin, and South Korea, presumably in Yongin, Kyonggi Province, where the Kyonggi Cultural Foundation plans to construct a new museum dedicated to the artist.

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