Nam June Paik Art Center: A life in video

Nam June Paik Art Center: A life in video

Nam June Paik almost single-handedly created the genre of video art. Today, his spirit and video installations flicker on at the Nam June Paik Art Center, south of Seoul
Nam June Paik Art Center
Nam June Paik Art Center, located in Yongin, explores relationships between art, philosophy, media and life through video art.

For over four decades, South Korean-born U.S. artist Nam June Paik pushed at the boundaries of artistic convention with works that, most famously, embraced the medium of video.

In doing so, he became a leading light of the Fluxus movement -- which sought to fuse art with music, literature and other media -- and perhaps the most famous artist South Korea has ever produced. 

A permanent home

Today his work has a permanent home in the land of his birth: the Nam June Paik Art Center, located in Yongin, a city in Gyeonggi Province, just south of Seoul. CNNGo TV hooked up with director Benson Lee for a tour around Nam June Paik Art Center. 

Development of the center -- a striking, five-story construction encased in layered glass -- began back in 2001, with Paik personally involved in the project. Sadly, the artist passed away five years later, so he never got to see this stately tribute when it opened in 2008. 

Spanning an area of 5,600 square meters, the center is divided into a series of exhibition halls and archives with both permanent and temporary exhibitions. Keeping with Paik's iconoclastic spirit, the museum's exhibits follow no real order of chronology or renown, thereby inviting visitors to make up their own minds as to the merit and significance of each work.

The permanent exhibition comprises a series of Paik's works interspersed with memos, drawings and newspaper clippings relating to Paik and like-minded artists, such as avant-garde musician John Cage.

TV gardens and Buddhas

Nam June Paik's TV GardenNam June Paik's TV Garden.
Paik's signature TV and video pieces are all around: TV Garden comprises monitors nestled among tropical plants, while TV Buddha, one of Paik’s most famous works, has a seated Buddha staring at his own depiction on a TV set.

Paik’s visionary collaborations with Shuya Abe, a Japanese electronic engineer, are another highlight of the permanent exhibition. Groundbreaking in their day, Robot K-456 and the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer today represent a distinctly retro vision of the future, like high technology rendered in Erector Set.

Also the venue for a series of temporary exhibitions, the center is currently hosting Trickster Makes this World, inspired by the eponymous book by U.S. author and scholar Lewis Hyde. 

A study of how “tricksters” can wield such a profound influence on the world we live in, the exhibition includes Gianni Motti’s Funds Show, which parodies the commercialism of the art world by scattering 8 million won (US$7,200) around the interior of one of the exhibition spaces.

In this challenging mix of ideas, Trickster Makes his World is a perfect exposition of why Paik’s work remains so vital today.

“Nam June Paik's nomadic and embracing spirit challenged established views, even avant-garde ones, and opened up potentialities where many believed they had been exhausted,” says Youngchul Lee, the director of the Nam June Paik Art Center. “At the center, we aim to evoke those traits and share Paik's vision and critical creativity with both a wider audience and our artistic peers.”

Getting there

Nam June PaikA series of buses runs from Seoul to the Singal Pachulso (Police Station) bus stop in Yongin, which is about 300 meters from the center. Buses include the 5000 and 5005, from Seoul Station or opposite the Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong, and the 5001 and 5003, from the red bus stop outside exit 3 of Gangnam Station. For more information, visit njpartcenter.kr.

The center is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., but closed on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Admission is free.

 

London-born, Edinburgh-raised Niels Footman has been living and working in the South Korean capital of Seoul for eight years.
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