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Nam June Paik review

  • Art
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Nam June Paik 'TV Garden' 1974-7 (2002). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Düsseldorf, Germany) © Estate of Nam June Paik

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Everyone’s desperate to hyperbolise the bejesus out of artists. Every other bloke who’s ever wielded a paintbrush is a ‘visionary’ or a ‘genius’. It’s almost always over-the-top nonsense, but not when it comes to Nam June Paik.

The Korean American artist really did pioneer his genre, really did change the course of art history, really did influence the artists of today and really did lay the groundwork for how art and technology could become one.

This is a show full of CCTV cameras, juddering cathode ray television sets, robots, discordant piano sonatas and humour. It begins with the central themes of his work: performance, collaboration, zen Buddhism and technology. John Cage’s face peers out of dozens of TVs in a plant-filled garden, a buddha watches himself on screen through CCTV, and Nam June Paik himself performs slow, deliberate movements for the camera.

Next comes a destroyed piano, a violin that’s been dragged along the ground like a pet, kebab spits of records and tape loops you can play by hand. This is before you even get to his TV images distorted by magnets, big smiling robots made of screens, his experiments with satellite broadcasting, his incredible live flame videos or his collaborations with Joseph Beuys and cellist Charlotte Moorman.

If that all sounds like a lot of stuff, that’s because it is. The zen Buddhism at the heart of this tells you that you should concentrate on ‘no-thing-ness’ in order to meditate. This achieves the same goal by concentrating on the opposite, by glorifying in thing-ness, by revelling in things that make noise and flash and bleep and transmit and receive.

There are some dud works here – my God, please never let me hear Joseph Beuys yelping ever again – and it’s a huge shame that so many of the interactive works aren’t interactive, and that the tape piece is such a disappointment. But this is art that presaged the art of today, that predicted the internet, that influenced what we think contemporary art is meant to be.

The show closes with an overwhelming room of what feels like thousands of videos going on at the same time, all over you. As his mate John Cage would’ve said, it’s everything happening at once. And in that maelstrom of sound and light and experimentation, you find Nam June Paik’s greatest message, that all these things, all things, are intimately and unremittingly connected.

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel


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