Nam June Paik

Korea, Republic Of 1932 - 2006


Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik
Korea, Republic Of
November 21, 2016
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Widely credited as the founder and key practitioner of video art, Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist known for his radiant, large-scale television installations. In one of his most famous statements from the 1969 manifesto, this installation maker stated the following motivation that served as a drive for his creative endeavours: I want to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo, as freely as Picasso, as colorfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock and as lyrically as Jasper Johns. Besides pioneering the use of televisual electronic media in art, Nam June Paik was also an integral member of the Fluxus movement. This artist sought new modes of artistic expression and cultural exchange through an intoxicating and unexpected manner[1], offering the audience remarkable experiences via his music, performances and different media installation works. Inspired by the engrossing performances of legendary composer and artist John Cage, Paik was determined to translate electronic sounds to the visual realm. This resulted in his mixed media video art which was so new and original that the American art history has only but a few more innovative authors in its arts arsenal.

View the technology work of the 20th century exhibition at the American New Media Museum
Nam June Paik – Matrix – Image via

Korean War and Fluxus

Nam June Paik was born in Seoul during the year of 1932 and was the youngest of five siblings. His father owned a major textile manufacturing firm and was making a nice living for himself and his family. As Paik was growing up, he was trained as a classical pianist by the best local instructors money can buy. His parents had high hopes that Nam would grow up and become a global sensation behind a piano, sparing no expense for achieving such a goal. However, historical circumstances suddenly stood in the way of every plan Paik’s family was making at the time. In 1950, Nam June Paik and his family were forced to flee from their home because the Korean War had just broken out. Initially, they fled to Hong Kong but later moved to Japan. Nam spent his teen and student days here, graduating from the University of Tokyo where he wrote a thesis on the composer Arnold Schoenberg. After receiving his diploma, the young artist moved to West Germany to study history with composer Thrasybulos Georgiades at Munich University. Here, Paik met the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and the aforementioned John Cage. These two new friends opened the door for the young Korean who suddenly found himself in the company of such individuals as George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell. From the year of 1962, Nam June Paik was an official part of the Fluxus movement. He would not make too many artworks at the time being, rather opting to listen and learn. Many experts believe that the initial Fluxus experience is what shaped Nam June Paik’s artistic vocabulary.

Sculpture work and performance specific site are arts whose collection has no museum archive despite technology
Nam June Paik – ElectroSymbio-Phonics for Phoenix, 1992 – Image via

Reinventing Video Art

The main idea behind the Neo-Dada art movement of Fluxus was also Paik’s biggest inspiration at the time – John Cage’s use of everyday sounds and noises in his sounds. The Korean artist made his official debut in the year of 1963, at an exhibition known as Exposition of Music-Electronic Television held at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. For this show, Paik scattered televisions everywhere and used magnets to alter or distort their images. As a result, he was left with an impressive installation that was unlike anything else at the time. This was his first television installation piece and was a nice alternative to Paik’s previous performances in which he pretended to be attacking members of the audience with scissors. After that successful exhibition, Nam moved to New York City, believing that the New York will prove to open up more opportunities than any other place in the world. During the remainder of the 1960s, Nam would continue to experiment and interfere with the flow of electrons in color TV sets, as well as develop his music and performance pieces. Throughout this period it was his goal to bring the music up to speed with art and literature[2], as well as to make sex an acceptable theme. With these goals in mind, Paik would create pieces such as the Opera Sextronique (1967) and TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969). In 1974, he coined the term super highway wishing to somehow label his application to telecommunications. The 1980s were marked by a slightly different and more subtle approach as Paik was making piece such as Something Pacific (1986) – a composition in which a statue of a sitting Buddha faces its image on a closed-circuit television. Interestingly, many of Paik’s art pieces were surprisingly useful to scientific advancements at the time as his radio and TV sets were used in many new technological breakthroughs.

Although he was the author of many performance pieces, the greatest achievement of Nam June Paik is his work with television sets and installation works

New video art and media works were the best American exhibitions at the John Smithsonian gallery
Nam June Paik – Video Flag, 1985-1996 – Image via

A True Celebrity of Art Making

As he matured, installation works Nam produced were becoming even more impressive. Paik’s 1995 piece called Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii is arguably the most stunning example of his cultural criticism ever made. By presenting us with it, the author offered up his commentary about an American culture obsessed with television, the moving image and bright shiny things. Paik was also known for making robot-like sculptures[3] out of television sets. Originally, these were constructed using pieces of wire and metal, but later the author used parts from radio and television sets in order to stay true to his recognizable style[4]. This way of constructing a piece via radio and TV sets never truly changed as Paik rather chose to develop and evolve it depending on the current global circumstances and personal interests. A great deal of inspiration for his art came from the video author Shigeko Kubota who Paik married in the year of 1965. Combining technology and video art, Paik was a treat for any American art museum and American arts gallery. Nam’s archive was full of site-specific video art installations which were extremely revolutionary to the 20th-century American art history.

Nam remained a celebrity for the rest of his life, always finding ways to make the headlines either through his installation pieces or interesting facts such as the one he never drove a car in his life because of his religious beliefs. In the year of 1996, Paik had a stroke that paralyzed his left side. He used a wheelchair the last decade of his life, though he was able to walk with assistance. He died on the 29th of January of 2006, in Miami, Florida, due to complications from his one-decade old stroke. At the time of his death, only one thing was certain – the world lost a true pioneer of art making. Fortunately, Paik’s artworks and ideas remained behind, offering influence and guidance to anyone interested in pursuing a similar career. If we search for any kind of media in any museum, we’ll have a hard time finding a video art piece from American arts as innovative as Paik’s art was. Indirectly, Nam continues to inspire many generations of new artists and we do not see that changing anytime soon. Some contemporary authors considered to be influenced by Paik include the likes of Christian Marclay, Jon Kessler, Cory Arcangel, Ryan Trecartin and Haroon Mirza.

Due to his impressive and game-changing contributions to the medium, Nam June Paik is often praised as the father of video art

Video art collection can be found in the archive and exhibitions of the Smithsonian gallery
Nam June Paik – Electronic Superhighway Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995 – Image via

The Pivotal Role of Nam June Paik

Ultimately, the impressive title of father of video art seems to be well earned for Nam June Paik. Such a recognition is only underlined by numerous awards that came his way, including such prizes as Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion in 1994 and the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award in 2001. Nam June Paik pioneered the use of televisual electronic media in art, recognizing the TV as more than a content delivery mechanism and making some of the 20th century’s most impressive installation artworks. Through the prism of his art, Paik imagined the world[5] in which human beings would be connected through radio waves and television broadcast channels, presenting us with his electronic superhighway. And by doing so, we believe Paik managed to achieve what he wanted from the very start of his career – to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo, as freely as Picasso, as colorfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock and as lyrically as Jasper Johns.

This artist is represented by Galerie Mitterrand Paris.


  1. Hanhardt, J., Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, GILES, 2013
  2. Ammer, M., Nam June Paik: Exposition of Music, Electronic Television, Revisited, Walther König, 2009
  3. Society, A., Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot (Asia Society), The Asia Society Museum, 2014
  4. Harnhardt, J., Nam June Paik: The Late Style, Gagosian / Rizzoli; Bilingual edition, 2016
  5. Harnhardt, J., Ippolito, J., The Worlds of Nam June Paik, Harry N. Abrams, 2000

Featured image: Nam June Paik – Photo of the artist – Image via
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2017Mouse in the Machine: Nature in the Age of Digital ArtCarl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, Santa Fe, NMGroup
2017Viaje alrededor del mundoInstituto Cultural Cabañas, GuadalajaraGroup
2016DatumsoriaChronus Art Center (CAC), ShanghaiGroup
2016A Sense of HistoryNordstern Videokunstzentrum, GelsenkirchenGroup
2016Nam June Paik - Watari-UmWatari Museum of Contemporary Art, TokyoSolo
2016Nam June Paik - The Untimeliness Of The ContemporaryC+N Canepaneri, MilanSolo
2016Nam June Paik - When He Was In SeoulGallery Hyundai, SeoulSolo
2015Nam June Paik - The Late StyleGagosian Gallery, Hong KongSolo
2015Paik Nam June - EditionsArt Works Paris Seoul, SeoulSolo
2015Nam June PaikJames Cohan Gallery - New York, New York City, NYSolo
2015Nam June Paik. W3Hakgojae Gallery, SeoulSolo
2013This is Not a Love SongLa Virreina - Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona Group
2013Storage Telling IExtra-ordinary - Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht Group
2012Nam June Paik: Global VisionarySmithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DCGroup
2011Nam June PaikLEE galerie BERLIN, BerlinGroup
2011Nam June Paik Auditorium Parco della Musica, RomeGroup
2010Nam June Paik FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool (England) Group
2010Nam June PaikGalleria Six, MilanGroup
2009Media AlchemyBeall Center for Art + Technology, Irvine, CAGroup
2009Nam June PaikJohyun Gallery - Busan, BusanGroup
2008Nam June Paik. Works from the ZKM CollectionFoyer of the EnBW, Karlsruhe, GermanySolo
2007Nam June Paik doART Beijing, China Solo
2006Bye Bye, Nam June PaikThe Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, JapanSolo
2004Nam June Paik: Global GrooveDeutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2003Nam June Paik: DrawingsMano Gallery, Seoul, South KoreaGroup
2002UnknownMuseum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt nGroup
2002UnknownWilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, DuisburgnGroup
2001The Worlds of Nam June PaikGuggenheim Museum, New York, NYGroup
2001UnknownGallery Hyundai, Seoul, South Korea nGroup
2000UnknownMuseum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt nGroup
2000The World of Nam June PaikGuggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Hoam Museum, Seoul, South KoreaGroup
1999Medium Is The MessageTV Gallery, Moscow, RussiaSolo
1999Nam June Paik: Fluxus/VideoKunsthalle, Bremen, GermanyGroup
1998The Concrete SignalCollege of Pennsylvania Galleries,York, PAGroup
1997UnknownGalerie Bhak, Seoul, South Korea nSolo
1997Skulpture Projects in MunsterWestfalisches Landesmuseum, Munster, GermanyGroup
1996The Electronic Super Highway: Nam June Paik in the NinetiesCulturgest, LisbonGroup
1995UnknownGallery Hyundai, SeoulnGroup
1994The Howard Wise Gallery: TV as a Creative MediumWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1993Feedback and FeedforthThe Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, JapanGroup
1993Artist as NomadGerman Pavilion, Venice Biennale 1993, Venice, ItalySolo
1992Pour la Suite du MondeMusée D'art Contemporain de Montreal, Montreal, CanadaGroup
1992New Video SculpturesGalerie Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf, GermanySolo
1991Nam June Paik: RetrospectiveKunsthaus, Zurich; Kunsthalle, Basel, SwitzerlandSolo
1991Recent Video SculpturesCarl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH Solo
1990UnknownHans Mayer, Dusseldorf, GermanynSolo
1990UnknownGalerie Maurice Keitelman, Brussels, BelgiumSolo
1989UnknownLa Fée Electronique Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, FranceSolo
1989Image World: Art and Media CultureWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1988Nam June Paik: Beuys and BogieDorothy Goldeen Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Solo
1988Nam June Paik: Family of RobotHayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London, EnglandSolo
1986Nam June Paik: Sculpture, Painting and Laser PhotographyHolly Solomon Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1985Nam June Paik: Family of RobotCarl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH; International Art Exposition, Chicago, ILSolo
1984Mostly Video, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan Solo
1984Tribute to Marshall McLuhanGalerie Esperanza, Montreal, CanadaSolo
198260'80 attitudes/concepts/imagesStedelijk Museum Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
1982Nam June PaikWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, ILSolo
1981Program of videotapesSony Hall, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1981Laser Video (with Horst Baumann) Die Nutzlichen Kunste, West Berlin, GermanySolo
1980Nam June Paik (retrospective of videotapes)The New American Filmmakers SeriesWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYSolo
1980VideaGallery Watari, Tokyo, JapanSolo
1978A Tribute to John CageGallery Watari, Tokyo, japanSolo
1978Fluxus TrafficRene Block Gallery, Berlin, GermanyGroup
1977Moon is the Oldest TV-setRene Block Gallery, New York, NY Solo
1976Video Film Concert The Kitchen, New York, NYSolo
1976Moon is the Oldest TV-setRene Block Gallery, New York, NY Solo
1975Nam June PaikRene Block Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1975Fish on the Sky-Fish hardly flies anymore on the Sky-let Fishes fly againMartha Jackson Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1974Nam June Paik: TV Sea: Electronic Art IVGaleria Bonino, New York, NYSolo
1974Nam June Paik: Video'n'Videology 1959-1973Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NYGroup
1972UnknownMuseum of Modern Art, New York, NYnGroup
1971CineprobeMuseum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
1971Millennium Film WorkshopNew York, NY Solo
1968Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts Institute of Contemporary Art, London, EnglandGroup
1968Nam June PaikState University of New York, Stony Brook, NY Solo
1967Expanding Perceptions in the ArtsArt Center of the Paul Klapper Library, Queens College, City University of New York, NYSolo
1965NJ Paik: Electronic TV, Color TV Experiments, 3 Robots, 2 Zen Boxes & 1 Zen CanNew School for Social Research New York, NYSolo
1965Galleria BoninoNew York, NYGroup
1963Exposition of Music-Electronic Televisionalerie Parnass, Wuppertal, GermanySolo
1959UnknownGalerie 22, Dusseldorf, GermanynGroup

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Olympics , 1992Nam June Paik60 x 90 cm Prints
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Kim Chee and Sauer...Nam June Paik20 x 5 x 3 cm Prints
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