Marina Times – Exclusive American Retrospective of Visionary Artist Nam June Paik at SFMOMA
Nam June Paik has been a pervasive cultural presence for decades. If you are familiar with the expression “electronic highway”, you are already familiar with Paik, who is credited with coining the expression in 1974 in reference to the future of communication in the Internet age. Now SFMOMA will host the artist’s first West Coast retrospective until October 2021.
Paik was born in Seoul during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Living and working in Japan, Germany and the United States has contributed to his artistic themes of global connectivity. Studying music theory as a musician and experimenting with performance and telecommunications cemented his multidisciplinary approach.
âNam June Paik is famous for being the historic father of video art, but its revolutionary and contemporary influence is even more based on its crossover between all media,â said Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA. âPaik’s radical visual and musical aesthetic has a natural place here on the West Coast as a place of global connectivity.â
Always a collaborator, Paik has worked with a wide range of performers ranging from artists Joseph Beuys to cellist Charlotte Moorman. During his career he has played a key role in Fluxus, an international network of artists, composers and poets who have engaged in experimental artistic performances. His work has influenced musicians David Bowie, Laurie Anderson and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, among others. Two robots in this presentation represent key collaborators, one dedicated to composer John Cage via John Cage Robot II (1995) and choreographer Merce Cunningham via Business / Digital (1988). TVs stacked and connected to resemble human forms reflect images of the artist’s work and life.
Bringing together over 200 works across all mediums spanning a career spanning five decades, the exhibition is organized by theme, bringing together several of Paik’s most iconic and provocative works. Technology meets nature Garden TV (1974-77 / 2002), a futuristic landscape in which televisions seemingly grow like blooming flowers among the foliage. An 18th century wooden Buddha watches himself on television, a nod to Paik’s Buddhist faith in Television buddha (1974). The stillness of meditation is reflected from the television like a reflection in a pool of water.
Sixtine Chapel (1993) is the jewel of this retrospective. Presented on a larger scale than in any other place, Sixtine Chapel at SFMOMA is a hypnotic experience of tone and images shown from multiple projectors. Originally winning the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 1993, the installation creates an immersive audiovisual experience – a bath of sound and color remixing Paik’s past videos and collaborations.
SFMOMA will also partially reconstruct the legendary solo exhibition of the artist in 1963 Music exhibition – Electronic television, and his notion of âaction musicâ demonstrated through musical interfaces and Paik’s first manipulated televisions.
PARTICIPATORY ART ONLINE
Alongside this exhibition, SFMOMA will present Paik’s Video community online. Originally broadcast in 1970, Video community was an improvised montage of scrambled television pictures accompanied by the music of The Beatles. During the original performance, Paik invited random passers-by into the studio, allowing them to remix the footage as it aired. The gallery presentation is a condensed videotape of the show filmed from a television screen.
Video community is reborn in this retrospective as a participatory work on the exhibition’s web page. Visitors can watch the silent video and create their own soundtrack of their choice using a selection of Beatles songs. Electronic Opera # 1, a second video, invites the audience to close and open their eyes while viewing a series of abstract electronic patterns.
VIRTUAL PUBLIC PROGRAMS
Until August, SFMOMA will present the film series online Dances for camera: Nam June Paik, Merce Cunningham, Charles Atlas on the museum’s website. Representing the genre of dance film, Dances for camera brings together three key works from 1960s San Francisco, 1970s New York and 1980s London. In addition, SFMOMA will host a virtual public performance and streaming program in collaboration with National Gallery Singapore on September 24 .
Be prepared to use all of your senses. Nam June Paik predicted the future of communication in the internet age and pushed the boundaries of what art can be. Perhaps most importantly, Nam June Paik invited us to join him.
Nam June Paik: Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until October 3, $ 25, masks and social distancing required, the exhibition is subject to capacity limits. Visitors must register at the entrance to the exhibition to reserve a place; admission not guaranteed. SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, 415-357-4000, sfmoma.org
Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer from Southern California. She can be reached at mindtheimage.com