2022 to be 'year of Nam June Paik' in celebration of video artist's 90th birthday - The Korea Times
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2022 to be 'year of Nam June Paik' in celebration of video artist's 90th birthday

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Mark Patsfall's
Mark Patsfall's "Nam June Paik signing 'Chicken II 02'" (1987) / Courtesy of NJP Art Center

By Park Han-sol

Marking the 90th anniversary of Nam June Paik's birth this year, Korean museums and art centers are gearing up to revisit the imposing legacy left behind by the video art visionary.

It was in 1965 when Paik, with his brand-new Sony Portapak recorder in hand, documented the jam-packed procession of Pope Paul VI in New York from a moving taxi ― giving birth to the genre of video art.

He was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word, with his oeuvre spanning from an 18.5-meter-tall tower of TVs ("The More the Better") to a dizzying collage of sounds and images projected onto the gallery's entire walls and ceiling ("Sistine Chapel").

The Nam June Paik (NJP) Art Center in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, announced its aim to bring the artist's innovative, boundless spirit to life this year through special exhibitions and an extensive online archive, under the motto "My Jubilee ist Unverhemmet."

Coined by Paik himself in 1977 through a mixture of English and German, the phrase roughly translates to "My Jubilee is Unmetered."

"It encapsulates the artist perfectly as a figure who could not be stopped, who has always strived to surpass all limits," Kim Seong-eun, the director of the center, said at a recent press conference.

On Jan. 29, which falls on the 16th anniversary of Paik's death, the center will unveil a new online archive, "Paik's Video Study" ― to showcase some 700 clips of the artist's single-channel video editions, performances and media appearances.

"The artist's physical video archive has been kept and managed exclusively by the NJP Art Center, but because it was stored in analogue tape formats, its accessibility remained limited," Kim stated.

By digitizing an extensive range of his iconic works, such as the 1984 satellite installation "Good Morning, Mr. Orwell" and 1973's "Global Groove," the online archive can add a new point of dialogue between Paik's oeuvre and present-day viewers.

Nam June Paik's
Nam June Paik's "Rehabilitation of Genghis-Khan" (1993) / Courtesy of NJP Art Center

The artist's "kitschy" yet visionary work will be celebrated further at the center's subsequent exhibitions. "Archeology of the Avant-garde" in March will pinpoint 10 important moments of Paik's five-decade career in a reverse chronological order to trace the origin of his avant-garde spirit of experimentation.

Amid the recent fad of immersive digital art, another exhibition "Analog Immersive" in July will propose a daring question: "What would have Paik done differently?" As early as the 1960s, the artist began to experiment with television screens, later moving on to clothing, musical instruments and eventually site-specific installations that would be projected onto the gallery space itself. The show will bring his raw, energetic combination of immersive images through works like "Sistine Chapel" and "One Candle" to the art center.

Nam June Paik's
Nam June Paik's "The More the Better" (1988) installed at MMCA's Gwacheon branch / Korea Times file

For the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Korea, one of the highlight events of this year will be the lighting ceremony for Paik's largest video tower, "The More the Better."

Composed of 1,003 cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, the tower was installed at the museum's Gwacheon branch in 1988, but it has been switched off since 2018 due to the malfunction of its aging primary components.

"The museum's efforts at restoring and conserving Paik's iconic piece for more than three years are currently in the final stage," MMCA director Youn Bum-mo said. "Once relit in the first half of the year, it will be able to greet viewers once again."

But he added that due to the unknown lifespan of secondhand CRT monitors, the museum will have to continuously monitor the tower and consult with experts to keep it lit.

In celebration of the unveiling of "The More The Better," two exhibitions will be held to study his continuous influence on the present-day Korean art scene, one showcasing archival materials related to Paik's art and the other presenting artists paying homage to the father of video art.

In November, the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) and the NJP Art Center will also jointly host an exhibition dedicated to the video art pioneer, making 2022 truly "the year of Nam June Paik" in Korea, as Youn put it.

A poster of
A poster of "1993 Whitney Biennale in Seoul" to be displayed at one of the MMCA's upcoming exhibitions, "Paik Nam June Effect" / Courtesy of MMCA
박한솔 hansolp@koreatimes.co.kr


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