A mesmerizing riot of sights and sounds, a major exhibition of the work of visionary Korean-American artist Nam June Paik (1932-2006) is underway at Tate Modern, running through February 9, 2020. Renowned for his innovative use of emerging technologies, Paik’s playfully entertaining work remains an inspiration for artists, musicians and performers across the globe. More than 200 artworks, photographs, films and archive objects have been brought together, from rarely seen early experiments to large-scale immersive installations.
Paik 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 U.S., 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 more than 25 years ago.