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Nam June Paik
b. 1932, Seoul; d. 2006, Miami
Nam June Paik was born in 1932 in Seoul. He received a BA in aesthetics from the University of Tokyo in 1956 where he also studied music and art history. After graduating, he studied for a year with composer Thrasybulus Georgiades Georgiades at the University of Munich and for two years with composer Woflgang Fortner at the International Music College in Freiburg. He attended the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt in 1957, when he met Karlheinz Stockhausen, and in 1958, when he met John Cage. Cage, and through him Marcel Duchamp, had a significant influence on Paik as he became a major force in the avant-garde through performances. In Hommage à John Cage (1959), Paik employed audiotape and performance to attack traditional musical instrumentation and compositional practices, splicing together piano playing, screaming, bits of classical music, and sound effects. Realizing that taped sound was not enough, he decided to move into performance, first by introducing performative actions into his audio works. In 1961 Paik performed Simple, Zen for Head and Étude Platonique No. 3, in which he became a volatile figure, thrashing about in unexpected patterns and sudden movements to his signature soundtracks. In 1962 Paik participated in the Fluxus International Festival of the New Music in Weisbaden. Paik's first exhibition, entitled Exposition of Music - Electronic Television, in 1963 at Galerie Parnass at Wuppertal, launched his transition from composer and performance artist to the inventor of a new art form: an engagement with the material site of television as an instrument. In the exhibition, thirteen televisions lay on their backs and sides with their reception altered; for example, Zen for TV (1963) reduced the television picture to a horizontal line and Kuba TV (1963) shrank and expanded the image on the television set according to the changing volume.
In 1964 Paik traveled to the US. He quickly settled in New York and became a leading innovator among an emerging generation of artists seeking new modes of artistic expression and distribution. That same year, Paik collaborated with Shuya Abe to create Robot K-456 (1964), a remote controlled robot that played audiotaped speeches by John F. Kennedy and defecated beans in Paik's Robot Opera (1964). In the interactive work Magnet TV (1965), Paik invited viewers to modify the television's output into swerving abstract lines through the movement of a magnet over the TV. In 1967 Paik and frequent collaborator Charlotte Moorman were arrested when Moorman performed Paik's Opera Sextronique (1967), a striptease as she played the cello at the Filmmakers' Cinematheque in New York. Paik's TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969), which Moorman wore in performances, featured two television tubes inside Plexiglas cases taped to her breasts. 9/23/69 Experiment with David Atwood (1969), one of the most important videotape productions of the first decade of video art, contained eighty fluid minutes of image manipulations in the constant process of revelation and transformation. TV Buddha (1974) comprises a statue of Buddha placed in front of a television monitor with a closed-circuit video camera directed from the top of the monitor onto Buddha; Buddha silently observes himself on the screen in an infinite temporal loop. In TV Garden (1974), plants of varying sizes grow out of and amid monitors playing Paik's videotape Global Groove (1973). Video Fish (1975) presents a row of twenty monitors each with a fish tank placed in front of them, playing footage ranging from flying planes and fish to Merce Cunningham dancing.
The fulfillment of Paik's ambitions for a live global satellite broadcast was first realized in Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984) and Bye Bye Kipling (1986), featuring a frenetically mixed extravaganza of veterans of the avant-garde and new pop performers. Family of Robot (1986) was the first of Paik's robot sculptures fabricated from vintage televisions and radios, and was soon followed by similar figurative works like Merce (1987) and Catherine the Great (1993). Paik also developed large altars and architectural-scale installations of television monitors in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996 Paik suffered a stroke, which had a dramatic impact on the pace to which he had become accustomed as a constantly traveling global artist. Nevertheless, in 2000, he created a millennium satellite broadcast entitled Tiger is Alive and in 2004 designed the installation of monitors and video projections Global Groove 2004 for the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.
Major retrospectives of Paik's work have been organized by Kölnischer Kunstverien (1976), Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1978), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1982), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1989), Kunsthalle Basel (1991), National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul (1992), and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2000). His work also appeared in important group exhibitions such as São Paulo Biennale (1975), Whitney Biennial (1977, 1981, 1983, 1987, and 1989), Documenta 6 and 8 (1977 and 1987), and Venice Biennale (1984 and 1993). From 1979 to 1995 Paik served as department chair at Staatliche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf. Paik died in Miami in 2006.