Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary

Where: American Art Museum

When: through August 11, 2013

Usually the shows I see at the American Art Museum are of traditional art works, but this Nam June Paik show is worthy of the Hirshhorn.  I can't say I was surprised by the exhibit; I was expecting some pretty crazy stuff, and that's what I got.  I'd seen a few of Nam June Paik's pieces before, in a National Gallery show, in their East Building Tower space, and only the weird make it to the Tower.  I think this show caused me to roll my eyeballs a bit more than the earlier display, just because there was so much more of it.

Paik's work centers around television sets.  Sometimes the work is a video displayed on a television, and sometimes the sets themselves are the art.  An example of the latter is the work entitled "TV Garden," which features numerous televisions displayed amongst plants.  According to the blurb accompanying the piece, this work is meant to represent TV's creative growth and utopian future.  Paik predicted that eventually the TV Guide would be as thick as the Manhattan phone book, and I suppose if you listed every show on every cable channel and all of the programs shown on the web, that's probably right.  Paik was the person credited with the first use of the term "information superhighway," in the 1970s.

The Nam June Paik archive is housed here at the American Art Museum, and this is the first of several exhibitions to be drawn from the archive.  If you're a fan of his work, this is great news.  If, like me, you're skeptical, you may be in for more crazy TV art than you'd like.  Some of the items from his archive are on display, and I have to say, if he weren't a famous artist, he would be called a hoarder.  Some photographs are also included in the show; my personal favorite was "Violin to be Dragged in the Street," which is a photo of Paik dragging a violin in the street.  Nothing like a title that gives you a good sense of the picture.

There are several videos playing, so you'll want to make time for those or make several trips, if you're a fan.  They run for a few hours, continuously, so to see everything, you'd need quite a bit of time.

Verdict: A little of him goes a long way, in my opinion.  If you like his stuff, it's a feast.  If not, you can get the idea with a quick skim of the show.

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