by Shraddha NairJan 29, 2021
Not a lot can be said about Nam June Paik which has not already been expressed over the years. He was an artist ahead of his time, a philosopher, a pioneer, a rule-breaker and a trailblazer. An artist whose practice knew no bounds, Paik was a bold adventurer of installation formats and sound art, exploring these avenues through performative and avant-garde approaches in an alloy of modern, industrialist developments of the West and ancient, spiritual tenets of the East.
Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands was one of the first museums to patron the discipline of video-based artwork which was, at the time, a nascent area of study. Stedelijk Museum was also one of the first institutions to acquire a Paik work of art. TV-Buddha, an iconic installation by the South Korean artist, brought in together his inquiry into the nature of time with his fascination for Zen philosophy. Thus grew the long enduring relationship between Paik and Stedelijk Museum. In a serendipitous occurrence, the oeuvre of Nam June Paik returns to the Stedelijk Museum after 43 years since Paik was first hosted there in 1977 for his first ever solo exhibition.
Paik’s interests were multifold. He fostered a keen interest in music and history, with a particular curiosity toward European music and ancient history. Born in Gyeongseong, which is present day Seoul (South Korea), Paik later educated in Tokyo (Japan) and thereafter moved to Munich (Germany) where he sought to expand his understanding of music and history. It is in Munich that he became acquainted with John Cage, an American composer, whose experimental approach to music became a significant influence on Paik’s artistic practice. Cage encouraged Paik to cultivate his interest in the culture he grew up in, while also collaborating with him in the exploration of music and its expected behaviour. It is of little wonder then that both Paik and Cage became deeply interested in Zen Buddhism in the following years. Cage is not the only artist who Paik collaborated with. Present day curator of Stedelijk Museum, Leontine Coelewij, says, “Paik was not interested in the traditional notion of the artist as a solitary genius. Paik‘s work is characterised by his collaborative practice; he worked together with many different artists, composers and musicians like John Cage, Charlotte Moorman and Joseph Beuys. These were not incidents but long-lasting artistic friendships. They influenced each other and sometimes made works together. This aspect is highlighted in the exhibition with special rooms devoted to these collaborations”.
Paik is widely credited as the founding father of video art. For this and many other reasons, he is an artist whose work is not limited by the binds of time. Coelewij talks to us about the continued relevance of Paik’s art saying, “We think Paik’s work is very relevant for us today, because he believed that new technology would enable people all over the world to connect and have a better understanding of each other. He did this, for example, with satellite television programmes like Good Morning Mr Orwell, which was broadcasted in several countries at the same time. He also wanted people not to be passive in front of the television but participate, already in the 1960s, which is something realised now with YouTube”.
“As an artist he had this utopian idea that art and artists could play an important role in society, change society and make it a better place to live in. He was a truly global artist, working in many countries and in different geographical situations. In all the different fields he worked in, Paik was a visionary artist who loved to experiment and explore new roads,” adds Coelewij.
With The Future Is Now, Stedelijk Museum is presenting the largest collection of Nam June Paik’s artworks to date. At a time where social media is providing platforms for revolutionising the world, a look back at the iconic artist who predicted the onset of mass media is a vital step in our journey toward conscientious awareness. The exhibition brings together a number of iconic works by Paik including TV-Buddha, Sistine Chapel and TV Garden. The exhibition is on display till October 4, 2020.
The Stedelijk Museum is also offering free introduction to Nam June Paik’s exhibition, an overview of the most important works of the artist, through a lecture, every Saturday and Sunday afternoon during the month of August.