Nam June Paik



Not on display

Nam June Paik 1932–2006
Pastel on paper
Support: 270 × 387 mm
Presented by the Hakuta Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2014
On long term loan


Untitled is a small pastel drawing on black paper by the Korean artist Nam June Paik. The bottom edge of the drawing shows three loose rectangular motifs outlined in white, each suggestive of a television set and accompanied by a small ‘v’ shape resembling an aerial. Four further ‘v’ shapes drawn in yellow, blue and red stretch in an upward curve from the bottom middle to the top right corner of the paper. The latter appear less like television aerials and more like birds flying off into the distance. The drawing is signed in white pastel in the bottom left corner and light smudges of pastel appear on the right.

The drawing was made by Paik around 1978 in New York, where he had moved to live and work in 1964. That the work is untitled and dated c.1978, rather than named and dated with more precision, is consistent with its playful and provisional sketchbook style. The drawing shows Paik’s visual interpretation of a series of television monitors and aerials. The simplistic style adopted serves to focus the viewer’s attention on the formal qualities of the television as an object. However, Paik was also concerned with television’s cultural and technological impact. As curator Sook-Kyung Lee has noted, Paik’s interest was ‘not merely a technological choice but also an acknowledgement of the cultural effect of television’s technological structure’ (Lee, ‘Videa ‘n’ Videology: Open Communication’, in Tate Liverpool 2010, p.27). For Paik, television was an instrument in a global network of communication. These ideas are echoed in works throughout Paik’s career and across a range of media, including Untitled 2003 (Tate L03649), Zen for TV 1963/82 (reproduced in Tate Liverpool 2010, p.105), I Ching TV, TV of Change 1974 and Golden Buddha 2005 (reproduced in Gagosian Hong Kong 2015, pp.34 and 67).

Paik and his family moved to Hong Kong in 1949 during the Korean War and relocated to Japan the following year. Paik studied music, art history and aesthetics at the University of Tokyo, graduating with a degree in aesthetics and a thesis on the modernist composer Arnold Schönberg. Paik travelled to Germany in 1956 to further his interest in music, studying at the University of Munich and the Conservatory of Music in Freiberg. Through his interest in music, philosophy and aesthetics, Paik became associated with the Fluxus group in the late 1950s in Germany. Fluxus, a term that loosely groups artistic activities that challenged fixed definitions, boundaries or categories (and which were sometimes called anti-art), was founded by American artist George Maciunas. Paik and Maciunas met in 1961 and Maciunas would remain an influential figure for the Korean artist.

Paik’s body of work includes performances, installations, sculptures and assemblages, as well as paintings, drawings, films and live links via satellite. Paik was a pioneering figure in video art and experimented with media and television. In 1971 he commented that ‘the nature of environment is much more on TV than on film or painting. In fact, TV (its random movement of tiny electrons) is the environment of today’ (quoted in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 2000, p.107). However, drawing was always integral to Paik’s practice, offering an immediate and direct way of developing and conveying ideas that were central to his thinking as a whole. As historian and curator John G. Hanhardt has written: ‘From early on, Paik drew in the margins of his writings … and used the graphic arts as a means to poetically expand on the forms he was exploring in new media technology’ (Hanhardt, ‘Nam June Paik: The Late Style (1996–2006)’, in Gagosian Hong Kong 2015, p.13). In this drawing Paik poetically reimagines the technology of the television aerial with minimal simplicity as a flying bird and the movement of information becomes a suitable subject for art.

Further reading
The Worlds of Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2000.
Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2010.
Nam June Paik: The Late Style, exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Hong Kong, Hong Kong 2015.

Beth Williamson
May 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Many of Paik’s drawings include the motif of a rectangular form suggestive of a television set, with a v-shape that resembles an aerial. In this drawing of three rectangles the v-shapes seem to be transformed into birds flying off into the distance. This image seems to allude to Paik’s belief in the potential of television as a positive agent for worldwide communication, while evoking a poetic imagination.

Gallery label, February 2016

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