Nam June Paik
Biography of Korean-American Video Artist.

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Nam June Paik (1932-2006)


Training and Early Works
Video Artist
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The founder of video art and one of the most creative postmodernist artists working in electronic media, Nam June Paik was a Korean artist who made an enormous contribution to contemporary art in America. Highly versatile, Paik trained as a classical musician, becoming involved in performance art before working with televisions and video, and thereafter installation art of various kinds. However, his video art is seen as being closer to sculpture than the pictorial approach adopted by later artists. This is best illustrated in his video sculpture entitled TV Buddha (1974, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). Other important pieces by Paik include: Moon is the Oldest TV (1965, Pompidou Centre, Paris); TV Garden (1974, NJP Museum, Suwon City, South Korea); The More the Better (1988, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul); TV Clock (1989 version, Santa Barbara Museum of Art); Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995-96, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC), and TV Cello (2000 version, Queensland Art Gallery). Paik's work has appeared in many of the best contemporary art galleries around the world, and has been showcased in several major retrospectives held in prestigious venues, including: the National Gallery of Art Washington DC; the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His contribution to postmodernist art has been immeasurable.

Note: In 1974, Paik was one of the first to use the term "electronic super highway" in relation to telecommunications.

Training and Early Works

In 1950, during the Korean War, Paik fled with his family first to Hong Kong, then Japan, where he graduated from the University of Tokyo before writing a thesis on Arnold Schoenberg. Paik then moved to Germany to study the history of music with composer Thrasybulos Georgiades at Munich University. While in Germany he met the legendary avant-garde composer John Cage (1912-92) - a major figure in conceptual art - who influenced him to become involved in the happenings and other projects organized by the radical 1960s Fluxus art movement, founded by George Maciunas (1931-78). For his first one-man show - entitled "Exposition of Music-Electronic Television" (1963), staged in Germany at Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal - he placed 12 TV sets in the gallery and changed the course of video art history.

Other ground-breaking video artists include: Andy Warhol (1928-87), noted for Sleep (1963), Empire (1964), Eat, and other works; Peter Campus (b.1937), noted for Double Vision (1971), Interface (1972), R-G-B (1974), Video Ergo Sum: Divide (1999), Baruch the Blessed (2004) and other works; Joan Jonas (b.1936) the sculptor and pioneer of video and performance art; Bill Viola (b.1951), best-known for his famous Nantes Triptych (1992).

Video Artist

On moving to New York in 1964, Paik began collaborating with the classical cellist Charlotte Moorman to combine music, performance and video. Together they performed pieces like Opera Sextronique (1967), which saw a topless Moorman dressed by Paik in video objects she then used to play music.

One of Paik's most important artistic legacies is to have expanded the definition and language of art. Introducing the notion of video installation via his use of multiple monitors, as in TV Garden (1974), he added a new dimension to the possibility of sculpture and installation art, while the concept of interactive art was already present in his pieces Magnet TV (1965) and Participation TV (1963).

The use of innovative technology was fundamental to Paik's career. Along with Japanese electrical engineer Shuya abe, Paik developed Video Synthesizer (1969), one of the first artist-made video-image processors. Paik's global art project, Good Morning Mr Orwell (1984) was broadcast in New York, Paris, Berlin and Seoul, by satellite. His later postvideo works use lasers, as seen in a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, "The Worlds of Nam June Paik" (2000). From 1979 to 1996, in addition to his work as a full-time artist, Paik maintained a position as professor of contemporary art at the Academy of Art in Dusseldorf.

Paik also collaborated extensively with friends and fellow artists from diverse disciplines: Global Groove (1973) includes sequences by John Cage and Allen Ginsberg. This method of working redefined artistic practice and saw Paik expand the understanding of the arts through different media.

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• For more about the avant-garde, see: Contemporary Art Movements.

• For more about lens-based art, see: Fine Art Photography.

• For more about digital electronics and creativity, see: Computer Art.

• For more about animated film, see: Animation Art.

Artworks by the artist Nam June Paik can be seen in a number of the best art museums around the world.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from "501 Great Artists", an essential work for all serious art students, published by Apple Press, London, 2009.


• For more details of contemporary works by Korean artists, see: Homepage.

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