“Paik believed in connectivity and the democratization of art. In his lifetime, video artists didn’t have a place in the traditional gallery world. I believe that Paik would have relished the opportunity to make and sell work outside of the traditional collectible space. As the father of video art, Paik already holds an honored place in this evolving medium. I’m excited to bring his visionary work back to the forefront of the cultural conversation - as a celebration of his legacy, and inspiration for a new generation.”
—Ken Hakuta, Nam June Paik Estate
“No artist has had a greater influence in imagining and realizing the artistic potential of video and television than Nam June Paik. Through a vast array of installations, videotapes, global television productions, films, and performances, Paik has reshaped our perceptions of the temporal image in contemporary art.”
—John Hanhardt, Consulting Senior Curator for Media Arts at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art
It is impossible to discuss today’s digital artworks and explosive NFT landscape without first paying tribute to Nam June Paik (1932-2006), whose vanguard video exploration contributed to the establishment of digital technology as a viable medium. Through his avant-garde use of technology, Paik presented his audience with a vision of what technology would provide humanity—boundaryless connection across the globe, dissemination of artwork removed from physical form and a society over-saturated with media. Contemporary digital artists, having matured in the very reality Paik described, are grappling with the after-effects of a hyper-connected, technology-dependent society with a seemingly unending appetite for content. And just as Paik did decades before, these artists are using technology as the medium through which to mediate on these topics: “The cathode ray tube will replace the canvas. Someday artists will work with capacitors, resistors and semiconductors as they work today with brushes” (N. J. Paik, Manifesto, New York, October 1965, quoted in J. Reichardt, The Computer in Art, 1971, p. 95). In many ways, Paik’s body of work did not just lay the foundation for digital art today, but ultimately predicted its evolution, the artist going so far as to coin the phrase "electronic superhighway" the year following the present lot's making.
For all those tuned into New York City’s WNET on 30 January 1974, Paik’s Global Groove (1973) will seem a welcome old friend in a strange new world, for that twenty-eight-minute-and-thirty-second premiere almost fifty years ago set the stage for a journey to the very edge of the digital frontier. Created with the help of the Video Synthesizer, a co-invention of Paik and Japanese engineer Shuya Abe, and John Godfrey of the broadcasting network, Global Groove features footage of multiple different TV guides, tubular color animations and retro steppers, overlaid with prophetic text: “This is a glimpse of a video landscape of tomorrow. When you will be able to switch to any TV station on the earth, and TV guides will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone book.” Familiar beyond its 1974 debut, Global Groove subsequently featured as the video component of Paik’s TV Garden installation during showings at world-renowned institutions, including the Tate Modern, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Slimmed down to its first 38 seconds, the prescient opening of Paik’s iconic video work is presently on offer as a non-fungible token (NFT), in effect reviving the seminal work, recontextualizing its significance in twenty-first century parlance and cementing the artist as the true father of digital art in the immutable blockchain ledger.
“If Picasso stands astride the first half of the twentieth century like a colossus, Nam June Paik is the center of gravity for all that was new in the second half of that hundred-year span. We are only now learning how profoundly his imagination embraced and transformed our world.”
—Elizabeth Broun, Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Artist Russell Connor’s declarative voice intones Paik’s foresight over trippy, variegated video, establishing Paik’s instinct about the future of art and social interaction through technology. Philosophically, a “video landscape of tomorrow” indicated the coming of a society in which every person hosts his or her own television channel and increased connectivity enabled by technological means renders the world a better place. When users reveal themselves through individual channels, Paik reasoned, people would more easily understand one another, progressing beyond the city-state construct towards a universe sans violence and economic hardship. In these ideas, Paik echoes early internet idealists, reminding today’s users of the hopeful promise of unity still latent in a technological future.
Though Paik remained cognizant of the downsides of this type of interconnected technology, he ultimately emerged an optimist, focusing his work on the imaginative, positive possibilities of new digital media, as a means of collaboration and connection of people, ideas and art around the world: “I bet there are still many openings and loopholes in art history ... which are being overlooked right now by millions of young people who complain that everything has already been done, so that they cannot do new breakthroughs. However, the history of the world says that we don't win the games, but we change the rules of the games” (N. J. Paik, 1992).
“Nam June Paik, the foremost innovator of media art … saw the future more clearly than any artist of his century. …Decades before Snapchat and Instagram, Paik became the first major artist to foresee how mass media would give way to multidirectional communication.”
—Jason Farago, “Standing Up for Humanity in a World of Screens,” in The New York Times, 1 November 2019, p. C1