December 12, 2012
He built robots, pioneered the field of video art and coined the term “electronic superhighway” in 1974 to predict our age of communications technology. When he died at the age of 73 in 2006, Korean American artist Nam June Paik was described by the New York Times as ”a shy yet fearless man who combined manic productivity and incessant tinkering with Zen-like equanimity.”
“A lifelong Buddhist,” the obituary went on, “Mr. Paik never smoked or drank and also never drove a car. He always seemed amused by himself and his surroundings, which could be overwhelming: a writer once compared his New York studio to a television repair shop three months behind schedule.”
In 2009, the Smithsonian American Art Museum received the legendary artist’s archives, acquiring all the old televisions, robotics materials and artwork from the artist’s estate. After organizing the highly-acclaimed Paik retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1982, curator John Hanhardt came to the Smithsonian precisely so that he could work among this treasure trove of archived materials and artworks, including the 1995 piece Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii.
Now, Hanhardt’s long labors have resulted in a new tribute to the influential artist, “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary,” which opens December 13.
“He was an extraordinary figure,” says Hanhardt of the artist, whom he first met in the early 1970s. “He was so dynamic, ideas were constantly coming from him.”
“He was also extremely funny, irreverent,” he adds, “and you see that in a lot of his work, very playful. He wanted to bring people in by being playful.”
The shows 67 artworks and 140 items from the archives reveal the true genius of a man who worked in film, music and interactive technologies.
“Nam June Paik: Global Visionary” is at the American Art Museum through August 11, 2013.
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