Paintings scrawled with a head dipped in ink. Computers that perk up to the sound of a human voice. Pianos dismantled to surprise the attendants of a live performance. You can see each of these happen at fashion runways, art exhibitions and live K-pop concerts, but to see all three at once in one exhibition is a feat that only Paik Nam-june can pull off. Based on the art center’s permanent collection, “Intermedia Theater” may sound a little banal, but keep in mind this is an exhibition that has mounted a neat row of TV screens as big as your palm.
While my friend couldn’t get his mouth off “Participation TV,” a pair of microphones that visualize the sounds spoken onto the TV screen in front, I—to satisfy my own curiosity about Paik’s weirdest performances—turned to the theater of ten TVs installed in the other room. Playing on the first TV, I recognized a piece I had seen at Jeju’s Bonte Museum as a freestanding object, now being played as “TV Cello” by Charlotte Moorman who wore a “TV bra” taped to her chest. The press coverage for “The Worlds of Nam June Paik” (a solo retrospective held at the Guggenheim in 2000)that aired on “CBS Sunday Morning” flickered with brief cuts of Paik himself being interviewed. Sunk into a chair like it’s his own, the artist gave curt answers in broken English. He almost seemed as relaxed as an English speaker talking in his native tongue.
If you are a fan of Paik’s artistry, you may refuse to believe that the black-and-white photograph, where he’s captured vaulting mid-air with his eyes rolled back, is the amazing artist himself. But turning to the fish tanks, home to piranhas and water-sunken TVs, and his laser sculpture “Three Elements,” you can recognize the artist many love and respect. Although known for his TV sculptures, I will argue that Paik’s true strengths lie in his ability to act. So, watch him on screen merrily play the piano while a group of performers saw its legs away before you make up your mind.