VIDEO: Nam June Paik’s Avant-Garde Tech Art

Discover the artist who predicted the internet and the iPad.


Did you know? In 1974, the term “electronic super highway” was coined by artist Nam June Paik in a report commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation—a phrase that refers to a broadband communication network uncannily similar in function to what is now known as the Internet. This fall, Asia Society is presenting “Becoming Robot,” a retrospective focused on Paik’s artistic and intellectual contribution to the legacy of video art and modern technology.

Nam June Paik was born in 1932 in Seoul, Korea, the third son and youngest child of a successful business family. In 1956, after studying music, art history, and aesthetics at the University of Tokyo, he moved to Germany to study music. There he would become acquainted with Joseph Beuys, John Cage—whom he collaborated with often—Wolf Vostell, and others who encouraged him to experiment with art and music. With a performance in Germany in 1961, Paik made an impression on George Maciunas, the leader of New York’s Fluxus movement. Later, when Paik moved to New York, Maciunas recruited him to join Fluxus.

The Asia Society exhibition aims to cement Paik’s art historical title as the “father of video art.” Even though his works may look relic-like in the eyes of the contemporary viewer, Paik’s ideas remain extremely relevant. He pushed the boundaries of video technology and foresaw how technological innovations would eventually become integral to our everyday lives. “Becoming Robot” is a mash-up of Paik’s early and later work, ranging from his first automated robot, his musical collaborations, and his toy collectibles, to his experimental and interactive video art.

The artist, who once deliberately dropped his pants while he was in line to shake Bill Clinton’s hand at the White House, is playful and cheeky, yet incredibly insightful and forward-thinking. artnet News took a tour of his show with curator Michelle Yun, discussing the medium Paik helped shape and the legacy he left behind, while taking in such career-defining works as Robot K-456 (1964), Family of Robot (1986), Golden Buddha (2005), and Three Camera Participation/Participation TV (1969/2001).

Becoming Robot” is on view at Asia Society until January 4, 2015.

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