Nam June Paik: The Artist Who Invented Video Art

:: Nam June Paik transformed video into an artist’s medium with his media-based art that challenged and changed our understanding of visual culture. As Paik wrote in 1969, he wanted “to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo, as freely as Picasso, as colorfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock and as lyrically as Jasper Johns.” The trajectory of his artistic practice is the subject of a current exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum which is aptly namedNam June Paik: Global Visionary. It was organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s senior curator for media arts and the leading expert on Nam June Paik, John Hanhardt.

All the art work shown was created by Nam June Paik. All images are courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Audio Tabs

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Nam June Paik sitting in TV Chair, 1968/1976 , Photo by Friedrich Rosenstiel.

Nam June Paik sitting in TV Chair, 1968/1976 , Photo by Friedrich Rosenstiel.

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Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1963/1976, manipulated television set; Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1963/1976, manipulated television set; Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1963/1982, manipulated television set; Collection of Marcel Odenbach,  Photo by Lothar Schnepf.

Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1963/1982, manipulated television set; Collection of Marcel Odenbach,  Photo by Lothar Schnepf.

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Nam June Paik, Random Access (Schallplattenschaschlik), 1963/1979, record player with lengthened axis, records and moveable pick-up arm, Courtesy Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul, on loan to the Neues Museum in Nuremberg, Photo by Annette Kradisch .

Nam June Paik, Random Access (Schallplattenschaschlik), 1963/1979, record player with lengthened axis, records and moveable pick-up arm, Courtesy Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul, on loan to the Neues Museum in Nuremberg, Photo by Annette Kradisch .

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Nam June Paik, Random Access, 1963/2000,  strips of audiotape, open-reel audio deck, extended playback head, and speakers, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © Nam June Paik Estate. Photo by Erika Barahona Ede © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation,

Nam June Paik, Random Access, 1963/2000,  strips of audiotape, open-reel audio deck, extended playback head, and speakers, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © Nam June Paik Estate. Photo by Erika Barahona Ede © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

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Nam June Paik, TV Clock, 1963/1989, twenty-four fixed-image color television monitors mounted on twenty-four pedestals; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Photo by Scott McClaine Photography.

Nam June Paik, TV Clock, 1963/1989, twenty-four fixed-image color television monitors mounted on twenty-four pedestals; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Photo by Scott McClaine Photography.

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Nam June Paik, Magnet TV, 1965, television set and magnet, black and white, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Photo by Robert E. Mates

Nam June Paik, Magnet TV, 1965, television set and magnet, black and white, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Photo by Robert E. Mates

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Nam June Paik, TV Crown 1, 1965/1998-99, manipulated television set, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Photo courtesy of  The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Nam June Paik, TV Crown 1, 1965/1998-99, manipulated television set, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Photo courtesy of  The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

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Nam June Paik, TV Chair, 1968, closed-circuit video installation with television and chair; Nam June Paik Estate.

Nam June Paik, TV Chair, 1968, closed-circuit video installation with television and chair; Nam June Paik Estate.

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Nam June Paik, TV Cello, 1971, video tubes, television chassis, Plexiglas boxes, electronics, wiring, wood base, stool, fan, photograph, Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Nam June Paik, TV Cello, 1971, video tubes, television chassis, Plexiglas boxes, electronics, wiring, wood base, stool, fan, photograph, Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

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11. Nam June Paik, TV Garden, 1974/2000, single-channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo by Ellen Labenski.

11. Nam June Paik, TV Garden, 1974/2000, single-channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo by Ellen Labenski.

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Nam June Paik, Whitney Buddha Complex: TV Buddha, 1982, Buddha statuette, closed-circuit video, monitor and dirt; Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Photo ©1985

Nam June Paik, Whitney Buddha Complex: TV Buddha, 1982, Buddha statuette, closed-circuit video, monitor and dirt; Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Photo ©1985  D. James Dee.

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Nam June Paik, Whitney Buddha Complex: TV Rodin, 1982, bronze sculpture with TV Watchman playing broadcast television; black and white, silent, Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-H

Nam June Paik, Whitney Buddha Complex: TV Rodin, 1982, bronze sculpture with TV Watchman playing broadcast television; black and white, silent, Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Photo by Chris Kendall.

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Nam June Paik, Whitney Buddha Complex: Stone Buddha/Burnt TV, 1982, Buddha statuette and burned television monitor, Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Photo ©1985

Nam June Paik, Whitney Buddha Complex: Stone Buddha/Burnt TV, 1982, Buddha statuette and burned television monitor, Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Photo ©1985 D. James Dee.

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Nam June Paik, Merce/Digital, 1988 single-channel video sculpture with vintage television cabinets and fifteen monitors; collection of Roselyne Chroman Swig, Image courtesy Nam June Paik Estate.

Nam June Paik, Merce/Digital, 1988 single-channel video sculpture with vintage television cabinets and fifteen monitors; collection of Roselyne Chroman Swig, Image courtesy Nam June Paik Estate.

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Megatron/Matrix, 1995, eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Megatron/Matrix, 1995, eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Megatron/Matrix, 1995, eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Megatron/Matrix, 1995, eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Megatron/Matrix, 1995, eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Megatron/Matrix, 1995, eight-channel video installation with custom electronics; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (detail), 1995, fifty-one-channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, Smithsonian Amer

Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (detail), 1995, fifty-one-channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist.

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Nam June Paik, Untitled (Robot) [PaikBot], 1992, single-channel video in robot-shaped assemblage of televisions, radio- and stereo-system parts, and metal hardware, with additions in paint; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift to the Nam June Paik Archiv

Nam June Paik, Untitled (Robot) [PaikBot], 1992, single-channel video in robot-shaped assemblage of televisions, radio- and stereo-system parts, and metal hardware, with additions in paint; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift to the Nam June Paik Archive from the Nam June Paik Estate.

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Nam June Paik in his video-editing studio in his home on Mercer Street, New York, 1999. Photo by David Heald

Nam June Paik in his video-editing studio in his home on Mercer Street, New York, 1999. Photo by David Heald