Nam June Paik



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Not on display

Nam June Paik 1932–2006
Oil paint on wood
Object: 581 × 838 mm
Presented by the Hakuta Family (Tate Americas Foundation) 2016


Untitled is a medium-sized oil painting on wooden panel by the artist Nam June Paik. A number of abstracted marks and lines are painted directly onto the exposed wooden surface, the grain of which is most visible on the right hand side of the work. The painting is produced with a restricted palette of three colours – blue, red and black – and a deliberately flattened perspective.

Nam June Paik was born in 1932 in Seoul, Korea, the fifth son of a textile manufacturer. He is considered the founder of video art and a pioneering figure whose media and television experiments radically renegotiated the boundaries of contemporary art in the twentieth century. After graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1956 with a degree in music, art history and aesthetics – with a thesis on Arnold Schönberg – Paik went on to study music in Germany between 1956 and 1958, first with Thrasybulos Georgiades at the University of Munich and later with Wolfgang Fortner at the Academy of Music in Freiburg. His practice has included performances, installations, sculptures and assemblages, alongside films and live links via satellite.

Despite the fact that Paik worked primarily with video and television in sculptural installations, his work also incorporates a number of paintings and drawings produced throughout his career. Indeed, despite an immersion in the world of experimental music and performance during his early years in Germany, Paik was also well aware of a number of contemporary trends in the visual arts. Of particular influence was the work of experimental German painter, Karl-Otto Götz (born 1914), who Paik visited in the late 1950s. Götz, who had taken up a professorship at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1959, is best known for his abstract paintings produced in the tradition of Art Informel. However, he was of specific interest to Paik because of his influential essay, ‘Abstract Film and Electron Painting’, which was published in the same year (reproduced in Rudolf Frieling and Dieter Daniels (eds.), Media Art Action: The 1960s and 1970s in Germany Vienna 1997, pp.51–2). Fuelled by his interest in the aesthetics of radar images, developed whilst serving as a soldier in World War II, Götz’s essay explored his ideas and theories on the use of electronics for image generation and the potential results of computer-assisted painting. Close in spirit to Paik’s beliefs in the power of technology – and the inevitable integration of technology into human life – Götz’s theories and results were of real interest to Paik as art historian Christine Mehring has argued (see Mehring 2008).

Executed with a free hand, a minimalist aesthetic and a deliberate refusal to adhere to any traditional standards of artistic practice, Untitled demonstrates both an awareness of Götz and the influence of Paik’s early training with the ‘anti-art’ Fluxus movement. The sweeping lines and broad brush strokes suggest the fluidity of Götz’s works from the mid-1950s, whilst the abstracted imagery centred in the middle of the painting – vaguely reminiscent of the outline of a television set – reveals a firm focus on the technological innovation at the forefront of his mind. In this context the abstracted lines and shapes freely painted onto the surface of the wood serve as visual reinterpretations of the waves of distortion that hovered across the surface of his televisual experiments: the raster lines of the traditional cathode ray tube video monitors with which he worked. Untitled is, in this sense, a technological experiment in painterly form.

Further reading
The Worlds of Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2000.
Christine Mehring, ‘Television Art’s Abstract Starts: Europe circa 1944–1969’, October, no.125, Summer 2008, pp.29–64.
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

Although Paik was principally associated with performance and technology, he was also engaged in painting and drawing throughout his career. This freely executed work is painted directly onto a wooden surface. The abstracted form in the middle of the composition resembles the shape of a television set, while the lines and shapes surrounding it suggest the waves of distortion that hover across the surface of his televisual experiments.

Gallery label, November 2014

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