Favorite Contemporary Artists: Nam June Paik

Herbie Dittersdorf ’19:

I have been going to museums for as long as I can remember. When I was a baby, my mother would wheel my stroller through the National Gallery in DC. DC’s free museums were a constant feature of elementary school field trips and middle school projects as well. Because it lives permanently in the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, Nam June Paik’s Electronic Superhighway (1995) made an early impression on me. A great ode to the United States as seen through its television media, I could stand for hours watching each American state’s frenetic series of images flit by, encased in a neon shell. Last year, I finally bought a big Electronic Superhighway (1995) poster and put it in my dorm.


Electronic Superhighway (1995), Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik was a Korean-American Artist who is most famous for founding the medium of video art. He was born in Seoul but his family had to flee during the Korean War. Landing in Japan for university, he made his way to West Germany after graduating. In Munich, he met experimental composer John Cage and his circle of friends and collaborators. In 1964, he followed Cage’s cohort to New York and became a central figure in the art movement known as Fluxus. Inspired by televisions, engineers, Buddhism, and the Fluxus movement’s focus on integrating everyday-experiences into art, Paik built a career on using televisions to create new artistic experiences.

From simple constructions like TV Buddha (1974) and Zen for TV (1963), to large installations like TV Garden (1974), Paik transformed the average household television into a source of sophisticated emotional and intellectual expression. Whenever I see art made in any digital medium, I cannot help but think back to the first time I stood under his massive, glowing, Electronic Superhighway (1995).


TV Garden (1974), Nam June Paik


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