Nam June Paik, South Korean, 1932 - 2006
Medium: Vintage television cabinets, neon elements, video
232 x 82 1/2 x 84 1/2 in. (589.3 x 209.6 x 214.6 cm)
Credit Line: Commissioned by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; funds provided by the Morrie A. Moss Acquisition Fund, the Hohenberg Foundation, Wil and Sally Hergenrader, and The Bodine Company, and Art Today
Object Number: 2002.4
Copyright: © Estate of the artist
Not on view
Through a range of installations, videos, global television productions, films, and performances, Nam June Paik, the father of video art, has shaped perceptions of the moving image in contemporary art. Paik, an instrumental figure of the Fluxus movement, was influenced by the writings of John Cage, whose theories of chance encouraged experimental work in art, music, and performance in the 1950s and 1960s. By using the television and the portable camera—two devices that were intended for mass communication and information distribution—for his personal expression, Paik premiered an entirely new artistic medium and revolutionized artmaking in the later half of the 20th century. He refers to museums as modern versions of ancient temples that house society’s cultural artifacts. When Paik was commissioned by the Brooks for a site-specific installation, he accordingly created a symbolic obelisk for the museum, a modern-day temple, that also references the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis.
Vide-O-belisk exhibits Paik’s interest in technology, communication, and music. The sculpture is a nineteen-foot tower of vintage 1950s television cabinets, adorned with neon signs symbolizing communication tools from ancient hieroglyphs to modern day apparatuses such as the telephone. The vivid magenta, blue, light blue, green, yellow, and red bands of color that create the backdrop in each video form the principal television color spectrum. Each cabinet plays one of three videos that are continuously looped: one shows early moments in television history contrasted with the essential mechanical parts of television technology; another superimposes images of the museum’s collection with images of ancient Egypt; and, finally, keyboards and metronomes share the screen with images of Paik’s early career with his longtime collaborator, Charlotte Moorman, Cage, and the Fluxus movement. Vide-O-belisk is a monument to the exchange of ideas and information through various historical modes of communication and art.