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PAIK NAM-JUNE (Korean, 1932-2006)
Hacker Newbie
signed 'Paik' in English; dated '94' (lower right)
mixed media sculpture (5TV cabinet, 2 Sony 5TV model 5SLA, 2 telephones,1 radio, 2 chasis, 1 Paik laser disk, 1 laser disk player)
110 x 69 x 157 cm. (43 3/8 x 27 1/8 x 61 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1994
Private Collection, Asia

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

Among the first artists who were quick to recognize the value and need for the reformation of our era's electronic technology as a significant art medium, Paik Nam-June is the widest-ranging and most prolific artist. Paik's bold expression and free experimentation, which led him in a more avant-garde direction than his contemporaries, encompass one of the most significant bodies of work in the medium and his work is notable for its tremendous breadth and depth. Paik is widely recognized as a true pioneer who made an enormous contribution to the development of video as an art form and the history of video art through his Fluxus-based performances, altered television sets of the early 1960s, the groundbreaking videotapes and multi-media installations of the 1970s, humorous video robots of the 1980s and computer based new video images of the 1990s and 2000s. Born in Seoul, Korea in 1932, Paik left his homeland at the age of 18 for Hong Kong and settled soon after in Tokyo, where he graduated from the Tokyo University with a degree in aesthetics in 1956. A fascination with the innovative work of Arnold Schoenberg led Paik to pursue graduate work at the University of Munich and the Conservatory in Freiburg. The turning point in Paik's early career came in 1958 when he met the American composer and philosopher, John Cage. Meeting Cage proved to be a liberating experience for the young Paik and over the next few years his performances became hard to ignore. Joseph Beuys was another career-long collaborator of Paik. He was inspired so much by Beuys and they did many performances together such as Piano Duet Memorial to George Maciunas at Dusseldorf. By 1961, Paik began to experiment with televisions, taking them apart and modifying their inner workings to create unusual effects and his principal medium became the cathode-ray tube, with the television cabinet as the sculptural framework, as he recalls, "I start a new life from November 1961. By starting a new life I mean that I stocked my whole library except those on TV technique into storage and locked it up. I read and practiced only on electronics." In 1964, encouraged by Cage, Paik took a trip to New York City, where he made his home for the rest of his life. After many experiments, in 1970, with engineer Shuya Abe, he created the video synthesizer, a rather informally constructed apparatus that enabled him to produce more various images. Featured here, Hacker Newbie (Lot 49) is a great example from Paik's new experiments of the 1980s and 90s. In 1986 he began the Family of Robot, a series of humanoid sculptures constructed of television sets and radio cabinets, some vintage, some brand new, and all incorporating state-of-the-art electronics. In Hacker Newbie, the artist has assembled vintage wooden television cabinets with four TV monitors inside to create the torso, legs, head and a game set as a hand of the robot. The range of televisions used to assemble the creature elicits different kinds of nostalgia and associations from the viewer. The wooden framed television sets reminding us of the earliest days of broadcast television, of formative childhood memories of family gatherings, coming together for major and minor broadcast events. The smaller more contemporary monitor suggests a slightly different era; as technology became more sophisticated, the set could become smaller and have a variety of uses, private, personal, portable, or for use in closed-circuit security systems. The smaller set suggests then a fragmenting of the medium into other uses beyond its socializing function in the home, as well as its increasing ubiquity as a medium of communication in daily life. The screens themselves, offer an ecstatic kaleidoscope of found images, streaming in a continuous loop of color bars, static, and Paik's signature manipulation of appropriated broadcast imagery, capping this masterwork as a mesmerizing and unabashed celebration of the advent of television and its ubiquity in modern culture. Paik's Vidiot also seeks to redefine traditional aesthetics by provoking irrational situations that leap outside order and predictability. Both arms of this humanoid robot are embodied by bicycle wheels with TV remote controls attached. It seems to articulate Paik's deep-rooted Dadaist spirit since his early career, evoking us a pioneer of Dada movement, Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel, the first "readymade" ever in the history. Vidiot displays amalgamation that links art, technology, popular media, the avant-garde and philosophy together. As Hacker Newbie and Vidiot display, Paik's works resonate with an irreverent humour and subversive brilliance that have influenced international contemporary art. These valuable aspects of Paik's art distinguish him from other media artists. Media experts have been given to criticizing TV as crass, superficial, and trivial, a pure product of capitalism that can never occupy a place in the great hall of true art. Paik, however, makes an observation of an entirely different kind, believing that it is precisely television's openness, its centrality in our lives, and its constant, uninterrupted trickle of broadcast information that gives it even greater potential in developing art and culture. The message emphasized in Paik's work is that as long as technology such as television and computer is used in a humanistic way for our own advancement, while being keenly aware of danger behind, it can create an ideal blend of technology and art that will bring greater diversity and richness to our culture. The creative intent behind Hacker Newbie and Vidiot embody the same vein of thought as these other works, which in the work achieves a mature and incisive realization. They remind us of Paik's interview with a magazine in 1969, "The real issue implied in 'Art and Technology' is not to make another scientific toy, but how to humanize the technology and the electronic medium, which is progressing rapidly. We will demonstrate the human use of technology, and also stimulate viewers NOT for something mean but stimulate their phantasy to look for the new, imaginative and humanistic ways of using our technology." Though Paik is perhaps most widely recognized for his prodigious body of video sculptures like Hacker Newbie, his experiments with satellite technology which began in 1977 at Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, where he collaborated on a live telecast with Joseph Beuys and Douglas Davis are significant trials as well to employ new technologies of the era. His live international satellite broadcasts of the 1980s, including Good Morning Mr. Orwell, Bye Bye Kipling, and Wrap Around the World are global video installations that conjoin disparate spatial, contextual and temporal elements. Linking the art world and the media, pop culture and the avant-garde, technology and philosophy, Paik's works resonate with an irreverent humour and subversive brilliance that have influenced contemporary art, video and television. Despite a stroke that attacked Paik in 1996, he continued his artistic invention of new media such as laser and computer. His last retrospective exhibition, "The World of Nam June Paik," which announced the new millennium at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in February 2000, was the result of his restless effort to experiment with new mediums. The splendid retrospective proved that Paik Nam-June wrote an entirely new page in the development of modern art, one that was aesthetically significant and historically pioneering. For that reason it influenced the following generations of subsequent artists, encouraging them to adopt non-traditional expressive media to present and interpret their visions of modern society and to explore even broader artistic spaces. Paik's work has deepened the artistic substance of Asian art with its uniqueness and rich cultural implications, but in terms of media art, and the development of modern art in general, he also examined issues that were international in nature and of broad humanistic concern, which made Paik a great 20th century artist, one of the few to achieve truly global influence. Paik is no longer with us but his simple yet profound messages on art and technology vigorously delivered throughout his career spanning more than 40 years will remain resolutely for and of our time.

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