Nam June Paik

The native form of this personal name is Paik Nam June. This article uses the Western name order.
Paik Nam June

The picture was taken by Lim Young-kyun in 1983 while Nam June Paik was in New York City
Born (1932-07-20)20 July 1932
Seoul, South Korea
Died 29 January 2006(2006-01-29) (aged 73)
Miami, Florida, United States
Nationality American
Education University of Tokyo,
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Known for Video art, performance, installation art
Movement Fluxus
Spouse(s) Shigeko Kubota
Nam June Paik
Hangul 백남준
Revised Romanization Baek Namjun
McCune–Reischauer Paek Namjun

Nam June Paik (Korean: 백남준, July 20, 1932 January 29, 2006) was a Korean American artist. He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the founder of video art.[1][2] He is credited with an early usage (1974) of the term "electronic super highway" in application to telecommunications.[3]

Early life

Born in Seoul in 1932, the youngest of five siblings, Paik had two older brothers and two older sisters. His father (who in 2002 was revealed to be a Chinilpa) owned a major textile manufacturing firm. As he was growing up, he was trained as a classical pianist. In 1950, Paik and his family had to flee from their home in Korea, during the Korean War. His family first fled to Hong Kong, but later moved to Japan. Six years later he graduated from the University of Tokyo where he wrote a thesis on the composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Paik then moved to West Germany to study music history with composer Thrasybulos Georgiades at Munich University.[4] While studying in Germany, Paik met the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage and the conceptual artists George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell and was from 1962 on, a member of Fluxus.[5][6]


Pre-Bell-Man, statue in front of the 'Museum für Kommunikation', Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Nam June Paik then began participating in the Neo-Dada art movement, known as Fluxus, which was inspired by the composer John Cage and his use of everyday sounds and noises in his music. He made his big debut in 1963 at an exhibition known as Exposition of Music-Electronic Television at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal in which he scattered televisions everywhere and used magnets to alter or distort their images. In a 1960 piano performance in Cologne, he played Chopin, threw himself on the piano and rushed into the audience, attacking Cage and pianist David Tudor by cutting their clothes with scissors and dumping shampoo on their heads.[7][8]

Cage suggested Paik look into Oriental music and Oriental religion. During 1963 and 1964 the engineers Hideo Uchida and Shuya Abe showed Paik how to interfere with the flow of electrons in color TV sets, work that led to the Abe-Paik video synthesizer, a key element in his future TV work.[9]

In 1964, Paik moved to New York, and began working with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman, to combine his video, music, and performance. In the work TV Cello, the pair stacked televisions on top of one another, so that they formed the shape of an actual cello. When Moorman drew her bow across the "cello," images of her and other cellists playing appeared on the screens.

In 1965, Sony introduced the Portapak (though it is said that Paik had a similar one before Sony released theirs). With this, Paik could both move and record things, for it was the first portable video and audio recorder.[10] From there, Paik became an international celebrity, known for his creative and entertaining works.[11]

In a notorious 1967 incident, Moorman was arrested for going topless while performing in Paik’s Opera Sextronique. Two years later, in 1969, they performed TV Bra for Living Sculpture, in which Moorman wore a bra with small TV screens over her breasts.[12] Throughout this period it was his goal to bring music up to speed with art and literature, and make sex an acceptable theme. One of his Fluxus concept works ("Playable Pieces") instructs the performer to "climb inside the vagina of a live female whale." Of the "Playable Pieces," the only one actually to have been performed was by Fluxus composer Joseph Byrd ("Cut your left forearm a distance of ten centimeters.") in 1964 at UCLA's New Music Workshop.[13]

In 1971, he made a cello out of three television sets stacked up on top of each other and some cello strings. He got a famous cellist to play the "cello" as well.[14]

In 1974 Nam June Paik used the term "super highway" in application to telecommunications, which gave rise to the opinion that he may have been the author of the phrase "Information Superhighway".[15] In fact, in his 1974 proposal "Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away" to the Rockefeller Foundation he used a slightly different phrase, "electronic super highway":[16]

"The building of new electronic super highways will become an even huger enterprise. Assuming we connect New York with Los Angeles by means of an electronic telecommunication network that operates in strong transmission ranges, as well as with continental satellites, wave guides, bundled coaxial cable, and later also via laser beam fiber optics: the expenditure would be about the same as for a Moon landing, except that the benefits in term of by-products would be greater."

Also in the 1970s, Paik imagined a global community of viewers for what he called a Video Common Market which would disseminate videos freely.[17] In 1978, Paik collaborated with Dimitri Devyatkin to produce a light hearted comparison of life in two major cities, Media Shuttle: New York-Moscow on WNET.[18] The video is held in museum collections around the world.

In another work, Something Pacific (1986), a statue of a sitting Buddha faces its image on a closed circuit television. (The piece is part of the Stuart Collection of public art at the University of California, San Diego.) Another piece, Positive Egg, displays a white egg on a black background. In a series of video monitors, increasing in size, the image on the screen becomes larger and larger, until the egg itself becomes an abstract, unrecognizable shape. In Video Fish,[19] from 1975, a series of aquariums arranged in a horizontal line contain live fish swimming in front of an equal number of monitors which show video images of other fish.

Paik’s 1995 piece Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, on permanent display at the Lincoln Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is a stunning example of his cultural criticism. With this piece, Paik offers up his commentary about an American culture obsessed with television, the moving image, and bright shiny things.

Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii 1995-96. It is exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Paik was known for making robots out of television sets. These were constructed using pieces of wire and metal, but later Paik used parts from radio and television sets.

During the New Year's Day celebration on January 1, 1984, he aired Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, a live link between WNET New York, Centre Pompidou Paris, and South Korea. With the participation of John Cage, Salvador Dalí, Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, George Plimpton, and other artists, Paik showed that George Orwell's Big Brother had not arrived. In 1986, Paik created the work Bye Bye Kipling, a tape that mixed live events from Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo, Japan; and New York, USA. Two years later, in 1988 he further showed his love for his home with a piece called The more the better, a giant tower made entirely of 1003 monitors for the Olympic Games being held at Seoul. Despite his stroke, 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[20] for the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.[4]

From 1979 to 1996 Paik was professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.


Paik's first exhibition, entitled "Exposition of Music - Electronic Television", was held in 1963 at Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany. A retrospective of Paik's work was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the spring of 1982. Major retrospectives of Paik's work have been organized by Kölnischer Kunstverein (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) and National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul (1992). A final retrospective of his work was held in 2000 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, with the commissioned site-specific installation Modulation in Sync (2000)[21] integrating the unique space of the museum into the exhibition itself.[22] This coincided with a downtown gallery showing of video artworks by his wife Shigeko Kubota, mainly dealing with his recovery from a stroke he had in 1996.

In 2011, an exhibition centered on Paik's video sculpture One Candle, Candle Projection (1988-2000) opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[23] Another retrospective was mounted at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2012-2013.[24][25] As a leading expert in Paik’s work, art historian John G. Hanhardt was the curator for three landmark exhibitions devoted to the artist, the ones at the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[26]

Paik's 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).[4]

From April 24, 2015 to September 7, 2015 Paik's works T.V. Clock, 9/23/69: Experiment with David Atwood, and ETUDE1 were displayed at "Watch This! Revelations in Media Art" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[27]


Ommah (2005) in the collection of the National Gallery of Art

Public collections that hold work by Nam June Paik include: the Detroit Institute of Arts, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (Seoul, Korea), the Ackland Art Museum (University of North Carolina), the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York), the Art Museum of the Americas (Washington D.C.), Daimler-Chrysler Collection (Berlin), Fukuoka Art Museum (Fukuoka, Japan), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.), the Honolulu Museum of Art, Kunsthalle zu Kiel (Germany), Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (Switzerland), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Düsseldorf, Germany), Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst (Aachen, Germany), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum Wiesbaden (Germany), the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), the Berardo Collection Museum (Lisbon, Portugal), |National Museum of Contemporary Art]] (Athens, Greece), Palazzo Cavour (Turin, Italy), the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Schleswig-Holstein Museums (Germany), the Smart Museum of Art (University of Chicago), Smith College Museum of Art (Massachusetts), Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), the Stuart Collection (University of California, San Diego), the Dayton Art Institute (Dayton, Ohio) and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota), the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell University Library, (Ithaca, NY), The Worcester Art Museum (Worcester, Massachusetts).

Honours and awards


Given its largely antiquated technology, Paik's oeuvre poses a unique conservation challenge.[30] In 2006, Nam June Paik's estate asked a group of museums for proposals on how each would use the archive. Out of a group that included the Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, it chose the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The archive includes Paik’s early writings on art history, history and technology; correspondence with other artists and collaborators like Charlotte Moorman, John Cage, George Maciunas and Wolf Vostell; and a complete collection of videotapes used in his work, as well as production notes, television work, sketches, notebooks, models and plans for videos. It also covers early-model televisions and video projectors, radios, record players, cameras and musical instruments, toys, games, folk sculptures and the desk where he painted in his SoHo studio.[26]

Curator John Hanhardt, an old friend of Paik, says. "It came in great disorder, which made it all the more complicated. It is not like his space was perfectly organized. I think the archive is like a huge memory machine. A wunderkammer, a wonder cabinet of his life.”[31] Hanhardt describes the archives in the catalog for the 2012 Smithsonian show in Nam June Paik: Global Visionary.[32]

Michael Mansfield, associate curator of film and media arts, supervised the complex installation of several hundred CRT TV sets, the wiring to connect them all, and the software and servers to drive them. He developed an app on his phone to operate every electronic artwork on display.

Many of Paik's early works and writings are collected in a volume edited by Judson Rosebush titled Nam June Paik: Videa 'n' Videology 19591973, published by the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York, in 1974.


As a pioneer of Video art, the artwork and ideas of Nam June Paik were a major influence on late 20th-century art and continue to inspire a new generation of artists. Contemporary artists considered to be influenced by Paik include Christian Marclay, Jon Kessler, Cory Arcangel, Ryan Trecartin, and Haroon Mirza.[24]

Art market

Christie's holds the auction record for Paik's work since it achieved $646,896 in Hong Kong in 2007 for his Wright Brothers, a 1995 propeller-plane-like tableau comprising 14 TV monitors.[30]

In 2015, Gagosian Gallery acquired the right to represent Paik's artistic estate.[33]

Personal life and death

Paik moved to New York in 1964.[34] In 1965, he married the video artist Shigeko Kubota.[35]

Paik was a lifelong Buddhist who never smoked or drank alcoholic beverages, and never drove a car.[36]

In 1996, Paik had a stroke, which paralyzed his left side. He used a wheelchair the last decade of his life, though he was able to walk with assistance. He died January 29, 2006, in Miami, Florida, due to complications from his stroke.[37][38] At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, as well as by a brother, Ken Paik, and a nephew, Ken Paik Hakuta, who managed Paik's studio in New York.[35]


  1. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, The New Media Reader, MIT Press, 2003, p227. ISBN 0-262-23227-8
  2. Judkis, Maura (December 12, 2012). ""Father of video art" Nam June Paik gets American Art Museum exhibit (Photos)". The Washington Post.
  3. Danzico, Matt; O'Brien, Jane (2012-12-17). "Visual artist Nam June Paik predicted internet age". BBC News online. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
  4. 1 2 3 Nam June Paik Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  5. Christiane Paul, Digital Art, Thames & Hudson, London, pp. 1415
  6. Petra Stegmann. The lunatics are on the loose - EUROPEAN FLUXUS FESTIVALS 1962-1977, DOWN WITH ART!, Potsdam, 2012, ISBN 978-3-9815579-0-9.
  7. Suzanne Muchnic (January 31, 2006), Nam June Paik, 74; Free-Spirited Video Artist Broke Radical New Ground Los Angeles Times.
  8. Wulf Herzogenrath: Videokunst der 60er Jahre in Deutschland, Kunsthalle Bremen, 2006
  11. Christiane Paul, Digital Art, Thames & Hudson, London, p. 21
  12. Paik, Nam June; Moorman, Charlotte (1970). "TV-Bra for Living Sculpture (1969)". Cologne: Media Art Net (
  13. Nyman, Michael (1999). Experimental Music. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65383-1.
  14. Cox, Michael (1997). Awful Art. Scholastic Children's Books. ISBN 0-590-19262-0.
  15. Netart
  16. Paik, Nam June (1974), Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away, Media Art Net (, retrieved 2012-12-18
  17. Laura Cumming (December 19, 2010), Nam June Paik – review The Guardian.
  19. Paik, Nam June (1974), Video-fish, World Visit Guide (insecula), retrieved 2012-12-18
  20. A video from this installation can be found in the Experimental Television Center and its Repository in the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell University Library
  21. Mark Stevens (February 21, 2000), Surfing the Guggenheim New York Magazine.
  22. The Worlds of Nam June Paik
  23. Press Release: First Nam June Paik Exhibition at National Gallery of Art, Washington, Includes Most Ambitious Installation to Date of "One Candle, Candle Projection" National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  24. 1 2 Karen Rosenberg (January 11, 2013), He Tickled His Funny Bone, and Ours New York Times.
  25. Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, Smithsonian American Art Museum, December 13, 2012-August 11, 2013.
  26. 1 2 Carol Vogel (April 30, 2009), Nam June Paik Archive Goes to the Smithsonian New York Times.
  27. "Online Gallery - Watch This! Revelations in Media Art | Smithsonian American Art Museum". Retrieved 2015-07-25.
  28. "Nation honors late video artist Paik Nam-june a year after death," Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (ROK). February 1, 2007, retrieved 2011-04-22
  29. International Sculpture Center. Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  30. 1 2 Rachel Wolff (December 14, 2012), Technological Masterpieces Wall Street Journal.
  32. Goodreads
  33. Burns, Charlotte. "Gagosian nets estate of Nam June Paik, grandfather of video art". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  34. Palmer, Lauren. "6 Fascinating Facts About Nam June Paik on His Birthday". Art News. Art News. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  35. 1 2 Smith, Roberta (January 31, 2006). "Nam June Paik, 73, Dies; Pioneer of Video Art Whose Work Broke Cultural Barriers". The New York Times.
  36. Smith, Roberta. "Nam June Paik, 73, Dies; Pioneer of Video Art Whose Work Broke Cultural Barriers". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  37. "Leader of Avant-Garde Electronic Art Movement Dies at 75". VOA News. Voice of America. 2006-02-01. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
  38. Biography for Nam June Paik, Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2011.1.24
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