Nam June Paik #1 Video Artist

by Skip Blumberg

"A mistake is not a mistake." ~ Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik, 1986 (Photo, Rainer Rosenow)
Nam June Paik, 1986 (Photo, Rainer Rosenow)

Being first in anything is exhilarating. In the avant-garde, artists express their own individuality without any boundaries or comparisons. Creative experiments are not always successful (it's a breakthrough only if there's a risk of failure), but it's the only way to the leading edge of culture.

Nam June Paik was the first video artist and did almost everything in video art first. His work broke the rules of art, television, graphics, and, because TV can use all possible art and information, practically everything else, too.

His first video sculptures, such as a Buddha watching his own image on TV and a magnet on the side of a TV set that pulls the TV image into abstractions, were shown at the Galeria Bonino, the Howard Wise Gallery, the Rose Art Museum and many others, beginning in 1965.

Subsequently, he has had many museum and gallery exhibitions in the U.S., Korea, Japan, Germany and other countries around the world and also produced 3 live satellite TV broadcast performance art extravaganzas from as many as 10 countries simultaneously. In 2000 there was a spectacular retrospective of his work throughout the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City.

This video that is posted on MY HERO in the link below was produced at Nam June Paik's funeral, in February 2006. Rather than a nostalgic recounting of the life of a great and important man, it is a light-hearted and lyrical recollection of the man's offbeat wisdom (with wild eye-boggling video effects).

Excerpted from a longer video, "Nam June Paik: Lessons from the Video Master," "#1 Video Artist: Nam June Paik" includes interviews with many of his friends and colleagues, including avant-garde luminaries like Yoko Ono, Merce Cunningham, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Liz Phillips, and the Videofreex.

Nam June was a friend and colleague of mine, a man I knew well and enjoyed always. With the permission of his wife, the video artist Shigeko Kubota, I was able to produce this tribute to a wonderful friend and also to portray many other pioneer video artists in attendance at the funeral who had been in the early art video community.

Page created on 7/28/2014 5:00:48 PM

Last edited 2/24/2021 11:17:46 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Smithsonian American Art Museum - Nam June Paik archive
Smithsonian American Art Museum - Biography of Nam June Paik
#1 Video Artist: Nam June Paik -
a video by Skip Blumberg (8:39 Minutes)

Extra Info

Hi aficionados of early video ~

Nam June Paik's funeral was a magical event with all the good will, recognition and love to a great, fun-loving and important person. And, for the 50 or so video artists who had been there at the beginning of the art form, it was an affectionate reunion. Davidson Gigliotti, Beryl Korot, Julia Heyward, Blondelle, Cummings, Paul Garrin, Paul Doherty, Bill Etra, Bill Viola, Andor Orand, Phyllis Gershuny, Dara Birnbaum, Carlotta Schoolman (a/k/a Fifi Corday), Kit Fitzgerald, Bob Harris, and, of course, Shigeko Kubota. Also, Russell Connor, Carol Brandenburg, John Hanhardt, Barbara London (Mr Nam June called her "Barbara Paris"), Sally Berger. And Gerry O'Grady and Chi Tien Lui! plus many many other long lasting friends and colleagues. There were also lots of faces among the couple hundred assembled whom I didn't know and, since Paik always has lots of young artists around, I met some fresh, bright, enthusiastic young media professionals.

The funeral was mostly serious (although John Hanhardt conjured up the spirit of the artist with magician's flourish). It was surprisingly staid until Paik's nephew (and director of NJP Studios) Ken Paik Hakuta told the story of Nam June Paik dropping his trousers in the White House reception line (an accident in getting up from his wheelchair or an art performance?) and then lead the suits in the audience in cutting each other's ties off and putting them onto the deceased in his open coffin.

I arrived right as it started and managed to get a great front seat on the side a few feet from the speakers until Merce Cunningham came a few minutes later and for whom I gave up the choice seat. I managed to see the podium a little between Merce's head and a Japanese kid's tripod camcorder.

I brought my camcorder but, without a good shooting position and several cameras with, I put the camera down during the ceremony. However, afterwards, at the lively reception in the Hotel Mark a few blocks away, I recorded dozens of friends (missed Shalom Gorewitz, Lori Zippay and other EAI'ers, Tom Zafian, and Muntadas, but did get lots of the early art video crowd - including all mentioned above, Yoko Ono, Merce Cunningham, Riyuchi Sakamoto and 30 others) with a theme: I asked everyone to briefly tell me something they learned from Paik and his work - advice, inspirations, aphorisms. (He once told me: "If it's not good don't use it even once; if it's good you can use it more than once.")... lessons from a video master.

Whether Paik's death is the end of the beginning of video art or not, it is now a period of great change in what he always called the media superhighway - and specifically the production, distribution and display of a medium that we still call video. We say good-bye to Mr. Paik Nam June and know that, despite what the medium becomes or is called, he will be remembered probably forever (even though his last name is his first name in Korea).

~ Skip Blumberg 2/4/06

Nam June Paik: Lessons from the Video Master
Produced in 2006 by Skip Blumberg runs 47 minutes long.

The video art community remembers the wisdom of its first artist, Nam June Paik in this video. Lessons from the Video Master includes 46 short statements from video art pioneers Davidson Gigliotti (Videofreex), Beryl Korot (pronounced ³Korr-aht²), Kit Fitzgerald, Bill Etra, Bill Viola, Paul Garrin, Paul Doherty, Bob Harris, Carlota Schoolman (a/k/a Fifi Corday Productions) and, of course, Shigeko Kubota as well as Russell Connor, Carol Brandenburg, John Hanhardt, Barbara London (NJP called her ³Barbara Paris²), Sally Berger, Wulf Herzogenrath and Kathy Brew. And Gerry O'Grady and Chi Tien Lui! Plus Merce Cunninngham, Yoko Ono, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Liz Phillips, Steve Miller and Blondell Cummings and Nam June's nephew Ken Paik Hakuta about what they learned from Nam June. This is an excellent teaching tool and research source for media art students.

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