Nam June Paik’s Pioneering Vision

How the Artist Predicted an Age of Digital Technology
“I think the best technology, information, has to do with education—our thinking,” artist Nam June Paik wrote in his famed 1976 essay “Why is Television Dumb?” Anyone who knows Paik and his strange, perplexing, and positively revolutionary art knows that the essay’s title is ironic: his early adoption of video and transformation of the television sets into sculptures made anyone who saw it think and prefigured our relationship with digital technologies today. Without his pioneering use of TV, in all its manifold forms, it is possible that art today might be very different—and, by extension, we all might think in vastly different ways.
Because Paik’s art tended toward extravagance, both when it came to his materials and his ideas, his work was historically difficult to pin down, and until recently not wholly recognized for how it broke new ground. A new retrospective of his work, organized by Tate Modern and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and now on view at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, throws its indefinability into relief, showing how Paik’s own early education in the field of music and his interest in information technology, globalist politics, Buddhist philosophy, and chance helped spur on his more widely known televisual works. (We Are in Open Circuits, a book of Paik’s writings put out by the MIT Press last year and edited by John G. Hanhardt, Gregory Zinman, and Edith Decker-Phillips, acts as good companion to the show.) Below, a look back at some of Paik’s most famous works, many of which are included in the show traveling the world right now.
by Alex Greenberger
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