Nam June Paik


1974, 1982–3

Not on display

Nam June Paik 1932–2006
Television case, framed canvas, wooden panel, cloth, pastel, oil paint and television antennae
Object: 1240 × 1210 × 250 mm
Presented by the Hakuta Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2016


Untitled is a mixed-media assemblage produced over a number of years between 1974 and 1983. It incorporates a number of disparate elements – including an empty second-hand television case, a wooden panel inscribed with abstract lines and shapes in pastel, a tan coloured cloth stained with oil paint and a television antenna – secured to a wooden frame on the reverse of a canvas support.

Following his early education in Tokyo, and arrival in Germany as an aspiring composer, Paik became increasingly preoccupied by the possibilities of the television and the technological manipulation of sound and image. This was largely fostered by his association with a number of experimental composers, including Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007) and John Cage (1912–1992), and his employment in the Electronic Studio of the WDR West German public broadcasting corporation between 1958 and 1963, where he was exposed to a whole range of electronic devices, sound-producing equipment and knowledgeable engineers.

Paik began to experiment with old television sets in secret from his contemporaries, displaying the results at his first solo exhibition in Germany: Exposition of Music – Electronic Television, held in March 1963 at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal. It included thirteen second-hand television sets, each demonstrating the effects of his experimental techniques. Traditional broadcast images were distorted and reconfigured into abstract forms by defects in cathode-ray tubes, sine waves and tape recorders attached to the monitors. However, whilst his innovative manipulations demonstrated his dedication to the television as a technological medium, the arrangement of the sets themselves also indicated Paik’s interest in the television as a purely formal object. Placed on their sides or face down, Paik ensured that many of the monitor screens were deliberately obscured from view, forcing viewers to contemplate them as sculptural pieces in their own right.

As Paik’s work developed and evolved from his early technological experiments, it continued to demonstrate a dedication to the television as a sculptural object, as well as one with a whole host of image-making implications. With a dual focus on technological innovation and physical form, Paik reconfigures and refashions both the set itself and the broadcast material it receives, transforming the television into a simultaneously conceptual and physical medium. Functioning, in some ways, as an extension of this aesthetic ideology, Untitled displays a similar focus on the formal potential of the television, incorporating the hollowed out shell of an antiquated set as the central object in a mixed-media assemblage. It also includes a rectangle of wood complete with a series of drawings in black and yellow pastel. These icons – visible as squares with two lines that extend upwards and outwards from the top right-hand corner – represent Paik’s visual interpretation of a television set and aerial and are visible as recurring motifs throughout his work.

Combining disparate elements alongside a traditional canvas support, Untitled is an important work in the context of expanded painting. In the same way that Paik’s technological innovation pushed the boundaries of video – legitimising and validating it as an artistic medium – so too did his assemblages challenge the boundaries of painting, renegotiating the established tradition of oil paint on canvas. Whilst this work incorporates both fundamental elements of an oil painting – oil paint and a canvas support – they are presented here in a new and radically re-imagined way. Objects that speak of the contemporary age in which Paik was working are added to the traditional canvas support, transforming Untitled from a simple assemblage into a reflection on the artist’s technological innovation. With its antennae extended, the television set waits ready to receive an unknown broadcast.

Further reading
The Worlds of Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2000.
Sook-Kyung Lee and Susanne Rennert (eds.), Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2010.

Hannah Johnston
May 2013

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Display caption

Bringing together an empty television case with pastel drawings, a cloth stained with oil paint, and a wooden frame with canvas support, this works seems to assemble the deconstructed elements of a traditional oil painting with a TV set in their midst. Paik was fascinated by the potential of television as an artistic medium, arguing that ‘the cathode ray tube will replace the canvas,’ and here the television set becomes a sculptural object in its own right.

Gallery label, February 2016

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