Opening reception: Tuesday 19 July, 6pm–8pm
The artist’s job is to make better use of technology, not to pretend it doesn’t exist.
—Nam June Paik
Gagosian presents the second and final instalment of Art in Process, a survey of works by Nam June Paik (1932–2006) spanning his career. The first part of the exhibition is on view at Gagosian’s 555 West 24th Street location through July 22, 2022, and surveys Paik’s practice as it developed over four decades through a selection of work ranging from early forays into multimedia to late paintings and video sculptures. Art in Process: Part Two features a trio of his satellite broadcasts from the 1980s alongside a number of intimate and elegiac “late style” televisions.
Art in Process is the gallery’s second solo exhibition of Paik’s work, following the 2015 presentation of The Late Style in Hong Kong. It follows The Future Is Now, a retrospective organized by Tate Modern and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) that was presented at Tate Modern, London, and traveled to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, SFMOMA, and National Gallery Singapore in 2021 and 2022. Art in Process is curated by John G. Hanhardt, who also organized the retrospectives Nam June Paik at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1982), and Nam June Paik: Global Visionary at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2011), in addition to The Worlds of Nam June Paik at the Guggenheim Museum (2000).
Melding an early training in classical music and subsequent interest in musical composition with radical, collaborative approaches to aesthetics and performance, Paik produced multimedia works that introduced the technology of television into the realm of fine art. Born in Seoul, he moved to West Germany in 1956, where he became an influential member of the Fluxus group. Eight years later, he relocated to New York, further establishing himself as a figure in the countercultural and avant-garde movements of the 1960s. Paik’s extensive social network and international background laid the foundation for a global conception of art that straddled painting, sculpture, performance, music, and electronic imagery. An increasingly prescient and significant figure in today’s world of mass media and artificial intelligence, he cultivated moments of overlap, exchange, and symbiosis between the human body and its technological counterparts.
Paik’s satellite works, shown at Park & 75 in edited form as digital projections, originally appeared as one-time public television broadcasts. “Careening between intention, catastrophe, and somewhat happy accidents,” writes Gregory Zinman in the exhibition catalogue, the shows “made live television into Fluxus showcases on a global scale.” Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, the first in the series, was broadcast on January 1, 1984, to a worldwide audience of over 25 million people. An upbeat riposte to George Orwell’s 1984, it featured live and recorded performances by Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Salvador Dalí, Charlotte Moorman, and the Thompson Twins, as well as Dean Winkler and John Sanborn’s Philip Glass–scored video, ACT III. It was, recalls Zinman, a “Day-Glo variety show of electronic psychedelia.”
The second broadcast, Bye Bye Kipling (1986), critiques Rudyard Kipling’s anti-multiculturalist stance through performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dora Ohrenstein, Lou Reed, and TwinArt; interviews with composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and fashion designer Issey Miyake; and footage of sumo wrestling. Finally, Wrap Around the World (1988) boasts a performance by David Bowie with dance group La La La Human Steps, a “Transpacific Duet” between Sakamoto and Cunningham, soccer-playing elephants, Formula 1 racing, German rock group Die Toten Hosen, an Israeli dance troupe whose members are deaf, and video segments by Paik’s assistant Paul Garrin.
In their enormous range of moods and modes, the satellite works capture Paik’s concerns through collaboration, serendipity, and the potential of emergent technology and mass distribution. The “late style” television sculptures, produced after a stroke suffered by the artist in 1996 led him to curtail a busy travel schedule, see Paik return his focus to the possibilities of studio production and gallery display. In these works, repurposed vintage metal and wood televisions, decorated energetically with acrylic paint and oil marker, become unique sites for the display of video works from throughout his career. The webs of gestural marks that cover works such as Big Eye TV and Ambassador TV (both 2005) suggest ideas and images meeting in electronic space—an endless matrix of information and interference.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by John G. Hanhardt and Gregory Zinman and a portfolio of rarely seen archival photographs documenting Paik’s early performances by Peter Moore (1932–1993), dating from 1964 through 1977.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)