The philosophy of Paik Nam-june continues at the art center

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Nam June Paik Art Center in Yongin City, Gyeonggi Province (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

The following is part of a series that explores museums dedicated to well-known Korean contemporary artists who bear their names. –Ed.

There is a street named Paiknamjune-ro in Yongin City, Gyeonggi Province, where the Nam June Paik Art Center majestically stands, the only art center in the world dedicated to the artist who has founded the genre of video art.

With its reflective printed glass facade, the building resembles a grand piano, an instrument Paik loved as a music major in college. The building was co-designed by two German architects, Kirsten Schemel and Marina Stankovic.

“The house where the spirit of Nam June Paik lives,” the artist wrote on the Art Center Blue in 2002, the year it was decided that it would be built in the city.

“Not many people know that the art center was built in discussion with Paik during his lifetime,” Kim Seong-eun, director of the Nam June Paik art center, told the Korea Herald on May 19. “In 1999, then the governor of Gyeonggi Province. Lim Chang-yul met Paik in New York, which led to the establishment of the art center a few years later.

The Korean-born artist, however, died of a stroke in January 2006 in Florida, United States, at the age of 73. The centre’s first groundbreaking would take place later in the year, ahead of its opening in October 2018. After his death, the art center struggled with copyright issues regarding Paik’s collection, but “those who were in charge of running the art center solved the problem wisely,” Kim said.

Building a video art center seems to have been Paik’s long-standing wish long before the Nam June Paik art center talks began, according to director Kim.

Site map of the Nam June Paik Art Center signed by Nam June Paik (courtesy of the Nam June Paik Art Center)

Site map of the Nam June Paik Art Center signed by Nam June Paik (courtesy of the Nam June Paik Art Center)

In an essay Paik wrote after the death of John Cage, his beloved avant-garde composer, in 1992, Paik includes his will in a witty way: my money should be spent on a modest museum of computer video arts. It is slated to open in 2010 (I may or may not be alive) and close in 2032 (I will be 100 years old).

The will included in the essay, however, is unofficial, and the closure of the computer video art museum he mentioned does not mean the closure of the Nam June Paik Art Center as it was written before the founding. from the art center, Kim explained.

“Many of Paik’s writings and drawings express his sense of humor, which is also often reflected in his artwork,” Kim said.

The annual budget of the art center, which hosts a one-year exhibition of the artist’s works and six other special exhibitions related to Paik’s philosophy, including “The Nam Art Center Prize Winner’s Exhibition June Paik ”, is from Gyeonggi Province and is worth around 3 billion won. .

Born in Korea in 1932, when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule, Paik studied in Japan and Germany where he fell into avant-garde art, influenced by American composer John Cage. Paik was also involved in the Fluxus art movement, an experimental movement that aimed to break the mold of traditional art. He was fascinated by new technologies and the television, which was a relatively rare electronic device in the early 1960s.

Paik Nam-june's “Robot K-456” at the Nam June Paik Art Center (Courtesy of the Nam June Paik Art Center ⓒ Nam June Paik Estate)

Paik Nam-june’s “Robot K-456” at the Nam June Paik Art Center (Courtesy of the Nam June Paik Art Center ⓒ Nam June Paik Estate)

Paik studied electrical engineering for years in order to merge televisions into his art, proving how art and technology can coexist in harmony in a time when people did not know the convergence of two different fields. In 1963, Paik presented the world’s first video art exhibition, “Exposition of Music – Electronic Television” in Germany.

While some criticized the new medium or were wary of the negative impacts of new technology, Paik emphasized the positive functions, sending the message that technology, nature and humanity can go hand in hand.

The art center houses some 119 works of art by Paik, including the artist’s masterpieces “TV Garden”, “TV Fish” and “The Rehabilitation of Genghis-Khan”. It also houses 2,285 Paik video footage stored on analog media such as VHS tapes used by Paik.

After the COVID-19 pandemic closed the center for nearly three months, it recently reopened with the “Nam June Paik TV Wave” exhibition, which showcases his experiences and exploration of television, showcasing his works from the years 1960 to 1980s.

View of the installation of

View of the installation of “Nam June Paik TV Wave” at the Nam June Paik Art Center (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

The exhibit includes the “Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer,” which was created in collaboration with Japanese engineer Shuya Abe in 1969. Paik wanted to show how television could be manipulated like a piano by anyone. The synthesizer was later used in Video Commune, a live broadcast on WGBH in Boston in 1970.

Nam June Paik Art Center had worked with Abe in 2011 to recover the functionality of the synthesizer.

As the only art center in the world dedicated to Paik, Director Kim said he has a responsibility to promote discussions on how to conserve Paik’s works of art whose now obsolete monitors are gradually becoming obsolete. A total of 296 monitors that are part of Paik’s works at the art center are CRT monitors.

Kim Seong-eun, director of the Nam June Paik art center, poses at the art center.  (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Kim Seong-eun, director of the Nam June Paik art center, poses at the art center. (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

“We have three backup monitors for each CRT monitor, which means artwork with CRT displays has a lifespan of at least 10 years,” said Director Kim. “Right now we’re trying to secure as many CRT monitors as possible, but we need a long-term plan on how to keep its works because we can’t stick with CRT monitors forever when they are becoming scarce due to low demand. .

“The problem with today’s monitors with new technology is that they are too flat to embody an aesthetic sense. But many years from now and as technology advances, I expect monitors with curved screens to come out. In this way, we can keep the original works of the Paik, replacing the CRT monitors with monitors with new technology. Until then, we are acquiring CRT monitors in various ways, ”she said.

Last year, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Korea decided to keep “The More the Better” by Paik, MMCA Gwacheon’s greatest video art, in its original form by repairing broken CRT monitors, at instead of replacing them with those with newer technologies such as LCD and OLED monitors. The three-year restoration project kicks off this year after more than two years of discussions.

“I think it’s important to have a thorough discussion about restoration, as we can’t find an answer on how to conserve Paik’s artwork in one discussion. It’s an important question, ”Kim said.

By Park Yuna ([email protected])


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