Nam June Paik

Victrola

2005

Not on display
Artist
Nam June Paik 1932–2006
Medium
Video, monitor, black and white and sound (stereo), wood, acrylic paint, lacquer, copper and vinyl
Dimensions
Duration: 4min, 45sec
displayed: 2070 x 1067 x 1422 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Hyundai Motor Company, the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee and Tate Americas Foundation 2015
Reference
T14341

Summary

Victrola is a sculptural installation consisting of a Victrola – a wooden cabinet with an integrated gramophone – placed beneath a large plasma screen that is fixed to the wall. A small pile of broken vinyl records by a range of musical artists lies on the floor in front of the cabinet. The Victrola is displayed with its cupboard doors open, revealing an interior painted with abstract and figurative shapes in bright red, orange, green and white paint. These painted shapes also appear on the exterior of the cabinet. The plasma monitor is wired to the mains via a series of electric cables, and screens archive footage of an early performance by Nam June Paik in which he breaks a vinyl record.

First disseminated in 1906 by The Victor Talking Machine Company – the leading producer of photographs and vinyl records in early twentieth-century America – the Victrola was a domestic record player with its turntable and amplifying horn housed discreetly within a large exterior wooden casing. Following its introduction to the market, the machine quickly became the most popular brand of gramophone for the home and sold in vast numbers. However, although it represented the height of technological innovation in the early 1900s, the Victrola soon fell out of favour as a result of the increasing popularity of newer forms of home entertainment, such as radio and television. By presenting the Victrola and its damaged records alongside a high-tech plasma screen, Paik’s installation makes reference to the object’s history and to the speed at which technology advanced over the course of the twentieth century. Furthermore, the Victrola’s open doors and the graffiti-like signs, shapes and drips of the brightly coloured paint suggest a long period of neglect or deliberate defacement suffered by a once desirable object.

By combining painting, installation and video technology with footage of a performance from earlier in Paik’s career, Victrola highlights the shift in Paik’s artistic focus from the late 1950s onwards. Early in his career Paik had mainly orchestrated performative actions and musical compositions, many of which incorporated edited audiotape. However, the time he spent in Cologne working at the Electronic Studio of the West German public broadcasting corporation (WDR) between 1958 and 1963 exposed him to a variety of electronic devices and sound-producing equipment, and to knowledgeable engineers, and as a result Paik went on to create artworks that made use of televisions and technological communication. In his words, he started ‘a new life’ at this time: ‘I stocked my whole library except those on TV technique into storage and locked it up. I read and practiced only electronics.’ (Quoted in Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien 2009, p.65.) In Victrola, the outmoded, analogue elements of the sculpture in the foreground are defaced and rendered unusable, while the newer technological elements – the plasma monitor and wires – remain intact and are placed high up in the visual hierarchy of the sculpture’s elements.

The footage on the screen of an early performance in which Paik breaks a vinyl record also introduces a human presence into the work. Paik nurtured an interest in the relationship between the human body and technology throughout his career; in 1969 Paik stated his intention to ‘humanize the technology and the electronic medium’ (quoted in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 2000, p.62). Through the combination of the broken records and Paik’s performative act of destruction – relived and re-imagined via the plasma screen – Victrola invites reflection on the replacement of old technology with new, and on the changing relationship between functional objects and human need.

Further reading
The Worlds of Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2000.
Nam June Paik: Exposition of Music, Electronic Television, exhibition catalogue, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna 2009.
Nam June Paik, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool 2011.

Hannah Dewar
May 2013

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Display caption

This sculptural installation incorporates a Victrola, a gramophone player fitted into a furniture casing, which Paik has painted with graffiti-like symbols. The Victrola was a popular product in American homes from the late 1900s to the 1920s. Paik seems to be emphasising its outmoded quality, with smashed vinyl records, and a plasma screen attached to the wall showing an early performance in which Paik breaks a disc. However, the screen can also be seen as a contemporary equivalent to the Victrola, affirming the place of communications technology in the modern home.

Gallery label, February 2016

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