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Leader of Avant-Garde Electronic Art Movement Dies at 75


Although many people outside the art world don't know who Nam June Paik is, they probably would recognize the quick cutting editing style that he pioneered and is so prevalent in many TV commercial and music videos today. Nam June Paik died on Sunday at the age of 73. Six years ago, VOA's Craig Fitzpatrick met this revolutionary artist. Melinda Smith narrates this look back at Paik's work and his influence on America's media culture.

Nam June Paik was known as the father of video art. He created an art form using TV monitors, cameras, and video switchers to produce dazzling and entertaining effects. He was part of the 60s’ avant-garde art movement, which expanded the definition of art.

"We wanted to criticize everything existing. To put into question everything that existed in 1964,” he told us. This movement even produced "anti-art."

Nam June Paik was born in South Korea but received his formal education in Japan, completing degrees in aesthetics and music. He spent the early 60s in Germany, experimenting with musical compositions and video installations, eventually moving to New York in 1964.

In 2000, the Guggenheim Museum in New York showed a retrospective of his art. One memorable sculpture was his, "Family of Robot." Here Paik bolted old television sets and radio cabinets together to represent the human form. His family consisted of a grandmother . . . and a grandfather . . . and a "High-Tech Baby" who was perpetually hyperactive. In another installation, he placed twenty aquariums in front of twenty TV monitors. He called this, "Video Fish."

"Nobody lost money by underestimating the Americans' taste," said Mr. Paik.

He especially shocked audiences in the late 60s and 70s, when classical cellist Charlotte Moorman participated in "TV Bra for Living Sculpture." She played a piece he wrote for the cello.

Although his art was electrifying and may have surprised audiences, in real life Paik was very down to earth. "I'm kind of a humble guy. . . modest."

At the 2000 exhibit, Paik said he thought he had gone as far as he could with video and started experimenting with lasers. He constructed a waterfall in the rotunda of the Guggenheim and had laser lights zigzagging through it. Some may question what is art, but Paik had a very simple definition.

"Art is what pleases me at this moment."

For more than 40 years Nam June Paik expanded the definition of what art can be and changed the way we look at television. He died of natural causes.

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