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Nam June Paik

(1932—2006)


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(1932–2006).

Multimedia artist, known especially for works incorporating electronic elements, principally televisions. Also painter, sculptor, filmmaker, performance artist, and composer. Entertaining, futuristic, and psychologically resonant, his television works introduce into late twentieth-century art the era's most distinctive and significant communications medium. In a characteristic format developed in the late 1960s, the sets appear in groups, showing preprogrammed video loops. Paik is credited with coining the phrase “electronic superhighway” in 1974. Born in Seoul, at seventeen he left Korea with his family to settle in Japan. In 1952 he entered the University of Tokyo to study philosophy and music. In 1956 he departed for Munich to continue university training in music for two years. He studied as well with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Darmstadt, where he also met John Cage, and in the late 1950s worked with an electronic music studio in Cologne. In addition, he participated in activities reminiscent of dadism and tried his hand at experimental filmmaking. In 1959 he began toying with television sets, at first distorting broadcast signals with magnets. In Wiesbaden in 1962 he participated in founding the fluxus movement and the following year in Wuppertal, he mounted a gallery exhibition of his television works, thought to be the first display of art incorporating the new technology. In 1964 he arrived in New York. On a legendary day in October 1965, he acquired one of the first Sony portable video recorders available to the public, filmed his first video, and showed it to friends that night, thereby establishing video art as a new expressive medium. Around the same time, he initiated a longtime working partnership with classically trained cellist and inveterate avant-gardist Charlotte Moorman (1933–91), who appeared in numerous performance events. In the late 1960s she earned notoriety (and was even arrested) for playing his music with her upper body nude or concealed only by Paik's video bra, a device strapping two tiny televisions to her breasts. Subsequently, among other projects, Paik produced robots, sculptures, and the well-known wall-sized banks of televisions, typically orchestrating relentless on-screen movement for visually dynamic effects. For a number of years from the late 1970s, he divided his time between New York and Germany, where he taught at the Düsseldorf art academy. Partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1996, in his New York studio he continued to dream up new projects, realized by associates. Among the most resonant, 32 Cars for the 20th Century: Play Mozart's Requiem Quietly (1997) deploys thirty-two silvered vintage cars with their radios programmed to play Mozart's last major work. He died at his winter residence in Miami Beach.

His wife, Shigeko Kubota (1937– ), also works with video, frequently in combination with sculptural assemblage or installations. Born in Niigata, Japan, she earned a degree in sculpture from the University of Tokyo in 1960. She arrived in New York in 1964 to continue her education and soon also participated in the fluxus movement. Some of her initial video works, realized in the early 1970s, pay homage to Marcel Duchamp, while others engage a diaristic format, setting precedents for her gradually more autobiographical later work, often incorporating themes of loss and desire. Still, she shares with her husband a sly humor and belief in an art of the moment.

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