Saturday, August 27, 2011

In the Tower: Nam June Paik

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through October 2, 2011

I decided on my recent visit to the East Building's Tower exhibit space that it really functions as a mini-Hirshhorn. Everything that's really weird goes in there. Accordingly, I have lowered my expectations for the exhibits I see in the space, although I'm still miffed by the idea that I have to climb so many steps to see the weirdness; that's one thing you can say for the Hirshhorn, they don't wear you out until you're actually in the exhibit.

This offering, by the Korean artist, Nam June Paik, is plenty odd. There's one room that holds a lighted candle - an actual candle with an actual flame. The flame being real, it flickers, as flames do. This is captured by a camera, hooked up to multiple projectors which show the candle all over the walls of the room. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that all of the candles are really the same flame - some of the projections are at angles or upside down. Also in this room is an egg sitting on a table, which is also projected on a screen next to the actual egg. Then, next to that, is another projector with an egg inside it. It's very difficult to describe, but rest assured, it's as goofy as I'm making it sound.

All of this I can handle; yes, it's odd and over the top, but what the heck, it's not like I'm thinking of projecting images of candles on the wall - more power to him, I say. In the next room, there's a 19th century Chinese scroll with a illuminated red hand on it that blinks on and off - fine with me. What I do object to is the display of the artists' doodles and random scrawls. If he was passing these off as art, then truly there's a sucker born every minute. One person's scrawls are no more artistic than another person's in my view - perhaps this is because I'm not making a fortune selling my scrap paper to the National Gallery.

Also in this second room is a video about the artist and his partnership with a female cellist. He created a TV bra that she wore while playing the cello - the original boob tube, as he described it.

Verdict: If you need some exercise anyway, have a look at this exhibit. I enjoyed sitting in the room with the candles, but the scrawls are just irritating.

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