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This Spring: Nam June Paik Exhibition at Tate Modern

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Nam June Paik was a visionary Korean-American artist, whose work has had an impact on today’s culture and art. This artist coined the catchphrase ‘electronic superhighway’ to foretell communication’s future in the age of the internet. He pioneered not just the use of television, but also video in art. He was born in South Korea, but lived and worked in Germany, Japan, and the US.

In the year 1974, he envisioned a world in which a “Superhighway” of both fiber-optic cables and electromagnetic transmissions would overcome the geographical boundaries. The World Wide Web (WWW) came one decade after that prediction of his.

He was just as far-seeing when it came to the impact of technology on the way we connect because he was occupied with its influence on how human beings see. So, it is little surprise that the TV was his main medium. The successor to the radio, this dominant broadcast device redefined visual consumption. Nam June Paik, in turn, defined it again and differently, sparkling fresh artistic potentials in the process.

On creating one the of the first video synthesizers in the world, Paik wrote it would allow “us to shape the TV screen canvas/as precisely as Leonardo/as freely as Picasso/as colorfully as Renoir/as profoundly as Mondrian/ as violently as Pollock/and as lyrically as Jasper Johns.” Paik could have been referring to many different digital-imaging technologies, which produce today’s defining visuals.

The outcome of his prophetic message and innovative methods is a unique art, stirring emotions. His premeditative TVs are something beyond just an entertainment medium, but these are ones to approach and think about. In one of Paik’s more popular installations, which blurs the lines between techno-intimacy and sexuality, he had his cellist partner, Charlotte Moorman performing live to an audience while wearing nothing except two TVs.

For another popular work, Paik put a TV in front of one Buddha statue, the screen of which is connected to one camera that shows looped footage of the statue.

At the Tate Modern gallery this fall season, the “Nam June Paik: The Future is Now” exhibition will feature “TV Buddha” and 201 other works by the artist. These works will include innovative video works, robots created from old television screens, and room-sized installations like the “Sistine Chapel”.

The comprehensive exhibition will also look at Paik’s relationships with Charlotte Moorman and other Fluxus artists. Paik was a pioneer of Fluxus, the multidisciplinary and performative art movement. The Paik retrospective at Tate Modern will arrive at a pictorial crescendo with 1993’s “Sistine Chapel”, his recreation of Michelangelo’s Renaissance masterpiece.

A Japanese TV station paid for the restoration of the Italian artist Michelangelo’s frescoes at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican city. Paik’s answer to the frescoes was a recreation of the ceiling media.

Since 2006, the year of his passing away, our relationship with all things technology has become even more paradoxical. We are more and more reliant on technology, yet are not open to admitting that we have this overdependence. Paik’s work in the exhibition lays bare that intimacy, unapologetically so and in all its perversions and promises. His televisions may not have slim bezels, be sleek, or fit inside your pockets – your ancestors might have used those devices to play VHS tapes. However, under the experimental hands of Paik, these TVs say a lot about how things are done and how we have to live in an age in which information travels not just on superhighways, but between household things. The Tate Modern gallery’s look back at Paik’s prophetic future arrives just at the right time.

No other artist had a bigger impact in revealing the sheer artistic potential that lurks behind the flickering façade of TV than Paik. That aspect is more evident in his seminal installation, “TV Garden”. To see it is to experience a unique fusion of the scientific and the natural, because hidden between an undergrowth of plants are monitors of many different sizes. This exhibition will open with that large-scale installation, exploring the diminishing difference between the technological and natural. Four of his innovative satellite videos will be screened in an entire room of Tate Modern. Broadcast right through the 1980’s period, these works feature pop-culture icons including Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and David Bowie, defining the then ‘MTV aesthetic’.

Tate Modern expects this exhibition to be a mesmerizing “riot of sights and sounds.” Curated by Tate Modern’s Senior Curator, Sook-Kyung Lee, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s curator of media arts, Rudolf Frieling, the Tate Modern exhibition will be on view from October 17, 2019, to February 09, 2020. A catalogue taken from Tate Publishing company and events and talks will occur at the same time as the exhibition, so you might also want to catch those when on Tate Modern guided tours.

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