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Nam June Paik

24 September - 23 October



Tang Contemporary Art is proud to present the internationally renowned artist Nam June Paik in its Hong Kong space.

The founder and pioneer of video art, Nam June Paik — a cosmopolitan who was born in Seoul and made his home in the East as well as the West through Hong Kong, Japan, and Germany until his death in the United States — drew a future where humans, technology, and nature could be in perfect harmony. Confronting the gloom of the mass media oppressing and controlling humanity, he presented a world where technology and humans coexist, and contrary to a line from Kipling’s poem, “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” he worked by connecting the United States, Korea, and Japan via satellite. The artist predicted that the East and the West would be joined through media and that people around the world would communicate with one another in real time.

Paik studied aesthetics as well as music and art history at the University of Tokyo before moving to Germany, where he started to gain fame as the “Destruction Artist” in his avant-garde experimental performance from 1959. During that span, he also presented a sensational performance with Joseph Beuys, and their deep friendship can be seen in his work Beuys Vox. Paik then took a step further from destructive art and attempted to visualize sounds. His first solo exhibition Exposition of Music–Electronic Television was held at Galeire Parnass on March 11, 1963. It was the first video exhibition in history, thus making him the founder of video art. He then would induce active interaction between his works and the audience by rejecting the one-sided transmission system of television and transforming the screen with the help of voices in the audience. This action contained his philosophy that art without communication is just another form of dictatorship.

As such, video art begins with the spirit of resistance to dismantle the informational dominance of television and to overcome the social pathology it causes. As a member of the international avant-garde Fluxus movement, Paik approached video art with the anarchist thinking and anti-aesthetic philosophy advocated by Fluxus. His seeking for anti-aesthetics was aimed at making audience participation the subject of art and rejecting isolation from the public through communication. This idea can be found in his work I Never Read Wittgenstein. With seven colors reminiscent of a TV test pattern, the work contains his intention to communicate through art. Opposing Wittgenstein’s proposition, “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence,” Paik argues that what cannot be uttered can be portrayed through art.

The artist took an optimistic view of the impact science and technology would have on future works, saying, “As [the] collage technique replaced oil paint, the cathode-ray tube will replace the canvas.” His philosophy that technological advancement can be brought into the realm of art is well expressed in Video Chandelier X and Sonatine for Goldfish. The former consists of 11 small monitors installed on the ceiling in the form of a chandelier. In this work — where cables and monitors are covered with plants — humans, nature, and technology are in harmony. Sonatine for Goldfish also signifies the coexistence of nature and artificiality. The perfect fusion of the two elements, technology and nature, can be seen in this video object: a goldfish, a symbol of nature, swims in a television, a symbol of technology. Other similar combinatory works include Homeless Buddha and Digital Painting. By staging religion and technology together, Paik completed the face-to-face encounter of both spiritual and material culture. Unlike this fusion with religion, Before the Word There was Light, After the Word There Will be Light shows the artist himself referring to religion by parodying Genesis and the Gospel of John. Using a television monitor showing a candle as an extended object, this work recreates the piece he made in 1948 as a comparison to his video art “in the beginning.” His intent is to show that video art (light) runs through the past and the future more visually than any word and at the same time becomes a medium of art and communication.

Video is not a ready-made art, but an art of ready-made representation and reproduction. Paik opened a new chapter in art like Marcel Duchamp, who started the whole concept of ready-made works. He transformed the cold attributes of a machine into something warm based on his own philosophy. Nam June Paik, who made various attempts to break new ground, is one of the most provocative and innovative artists since the 1960s and is highly revered by most critics, and his works and ideas, including video sculptures, installations, and performances, inspire many media artists to this day. This exhibition will hopefully become a part of
what art is by providing an opportunity to communicate with Nam June Paik’s works that most contain his philosophy.


Nam June Paik is a Korean born American performer, sculptor, video and digital artist. He is known as "the father of video art," who experiments positioned video as a viable art form, and a tool for global connectivity from the early contemporary information age. Utilising his interest in sound, audio and electronic elements from real life, P_a_i_k_’s_ _video technology blurred past distinctions between science, fine art, and popular culture, and created a new visual language- new media art.

Born in Seoul in 1932, Paik spent his middle school days in Seoul and Hong Kong, and his high-school days in Kamakura, Japan. He studied aesthetics in the University of Tokyo, with a graduation thesis on Arnold Schoenberg. Moving to Germany in 1956 and studying European philosophy and modern music, he came to work actively with contemporary avant-garde artists and began to carve out his artist-identity by doing radical performances which were completely different from artistic canons and conventions back then. Afterwards he pursued a novel path of art making by means of new media. His media art gained momentum by his first solo show Exposition of Music.

Paik died in Miami in 2006. From 1979 to 1995 Paik served as department chair at Staatliche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf. His work is included worldwide, including Kölnischer Kunstverien (1976), Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1978), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1982), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1989), Kunsthalle Basel (1991), National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul (1992), and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2000). His work also appeared in important group exhibitions such as São Paulo Biennale (1975), Whitney Biennial (1977, 1981, 1983, 1987, and 1989), and Venice Biennale (1984 and 1993).


24 September
23 October
Event Category:


Tang Contemporary Art

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