The Korea Herald


How Paik Nam-june's 'Transmission' was finally shown in Korea

Missing parts, video art founder's first outdoor laser installation work held in storage at Nam June Paik Art Center for nearly 20 years

By Park Yuna

Published : June 17, 2024 - 17:09

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Visitors view Visitors view "Transmission" at the Nam June Paik Art Center in 2023. (Nam June Paik Art Center)

Video art pioneer Paik Nam-june’s “Transmission” was shown for the first time in Korea last August, more than 20 years after its premiere at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City in 2002.

The 8-meter-tall laser masterpiece was shown alongside "32 Cars for the 20th Century: Play Mozart’s Requiem Quietly," also by Paik, re-creating the 2002 Rockefeller exhibition in the backyard of the Paik Nam June Art Center from Aug. 31 to Dec. 3 last year.

The exhibition, which opened to coincide with Frieze Seoul in September, marked the 15th anniversary of the only museum in the world dedicated to Paik.

"Transmission" by Paik Nam-june in collaboration with laser expert Norman Ballard is installed in New York City in 2002. Flanking the work is "32 Cars for the 20th Century: Play Mozart’s Requiem Quietly" by Paik. (Public Art Fund, Bart Barlow)

The exhibition was followed by an international symposium in November 2023 entitled “Nam June Paik’s Transmission Journey Over Two Centuries,” jointly hosted by the Nam June Paik Art Center and Leeum Museum of Art.

A report with the same title as the symposium was published in May containing writings by Nam June Paik Art Center archivist Park Sang-Ae, technician Lee Ki-jun and curator Kim Yoon-seo. It also features contributions from media artists Yun Je-ho and Mark Patsfall, along with Tae Hyun-sun, head of collections, and conservator Chin Zee-young, both from the Leeum Museum of Art.

The report can be accessed via the official website of Nam June Paik Art Center.

Created through the Public Art Fund in New York City a year after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the laser tower's rungs flashed vivid neon lights that bounced off nearby mirrored surfaces, casting a colorful web around Rockefeller Center. It was Paik's first outdoor laser installation.

In 2002, the Public Art Fund initiated discussions with Paik Nam-june about exhibiting his outdoor installation '32 Cars for the 20th Century: Play Mozart’s Requiem Quietly' at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

"However, the Public Art Fund felt that that the installation, which consists solely of cars, was insufficient for an outdoor exhibition amongst the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and thus asked Paik to also create a new piece,” wrote Park Sang-Ae, archivist at the Nam June Paik Art Center, in the report. Paik created 'Transmission" as the new work.

Paik had been experimenting with laser technology since the 1960s, presenting laser works of art in exhibitions worldwide, including at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1982 and at exhibitions in Europe in the 1990s.

Lee Ki-jun, a technician at the Nam June Paik Art Center, recalled how reviving the laser masterpiece from the museum’s storage was possible last year. A Seoul exhibition had been postponed as some components were missing at the time of its donation to the museum, following its showing at the Sydney Festival in 2004. The transmission tower was locked up in storage for nearly 20 years.

"Transmission" by Paik Nam-june is shown in outside the Nam June Paik Art Center in 2023. (Nam June Paik Art Center)

“’What is the condition of 'Transmission' tower? Can it be exhibited?’ At a meeting in April 2022, the director (former director Kim Seong-eun) asked this question,” Lee wrote in the report.

In early 2023, the museum set about resurrecting the work. As some crucial components were missing, the museum collaborated with Korean artist Yun Je-ho, who has experience with lasers and software programming, Lee added.

"Compared to Paik's other artistic practices such as Fluxus, his laser art is relatively unknown and required more research. We thought that the time has come to unveil the work last year," Park told The Korea Herald.

The museum requested from the Gyeonggi Provincial Government a special budget to set up the installation and "Transmission" was unveiled to the public on Aug. 31. 2023.

The cover of “Nam June Paik’s Transmission Journey Over Two Centuries” (Nam June Paik Art Center) The cover of “Nam June Paik’s Transmission Journey Over Two Centuries” (Nam June Paik Art Center)

On the other hand, “32 Cars for the 20th Century: Play Mozart’s Requiem Quietly" was created for Skulptur Projekte Muenster, an exhibition of sculptures in Muenster, Germany, in 1997.

“He (Paik) was undergoing rehabilitation therapy after a stroke that resulted in the paralysis of the left side of his body. For the final Skulptur Projekte Muenster of the 20th century, Nam June Paik conceived a magnificent new work that reassessed the technological development and social culture of the century through the automobile," wrote Tae, head of collections at Leeum Museum of Art, in the report.

Samsung, which supported the cost of the work for which 32 classic cars from the early 20th century were painted in gleaming silver to evoke ghosts, later acquired the work.

"Nam-june envisioned the piece as a requiem because at the time we were less than three years from the end of the 20th century and, for this reason, it was a sad piece. He characterized the 20th century as: 1. Organized violence 2. media 3. A car cult," wrote artist Mark Patsfall, who oversaw the original installation in Muenster.

Meanwhile, the Paik Nam June Art Center, located in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, is currently showing "Wake Up! It’s 2024," the 40th-anniversary exhibition of Paik's satellite project, "Good Morning Mr. Orwell."