Pioneer of Video Art: Nam June Paik

Electronic Superhighway, 1995,a gift from the artist to the Smithsonian American Art
Museum, Washington. This 49-channel installation is neon, steel and other electrical parts.

In the Tower: Nam June Paik is at the National Gallery of Art until October 2nd. This Korean-American artist introduced the realm of tv/video art with sculptures made of televisions in 1966. The exhibit encompasses themes and ideas important to art of the last 50 years.

His last video sculpture made in 2005, Ommah (mother in Korean) uses a 100-year-old boy’s robe, hanging like a cross, with a projection of Korean-American girls at play, linking past and present. It is in the National Gallery’s permanent collection

To fully appreciate his work one must see the exhibition in the museum’s East Wing. His art is about tv/video, a relatively new medium in visual art. A room of Paik’s drawings accompany the exhibition and help the viewer understand his thought process. One of the most interesting takes us back to the 60s culture; it’s a drawing of the Pan Am domestic routes represented by bunny-eared TV icons connected by red lines. He seems to have projected that many networks of our lives have been influenced by TV, and perhaps have changed us.

Paik, who died in 2006, is credited with bringing this medium into the realm of contemporary art. Compared to other video artists (there are many today!), Paik is certainly a multimedia artist who thought more in terms of how television and its relatives can be incorporated into art, rather than end and aim of the art itself.

One Candle, Candle Projection, 1988-2000 candle, candle monitoring device, closed circuit camera, projectors, distribution amplifier, and 5″ color monitor, dimensions variable Nam June Paik Estate

© Nam June Paik Studios, Inc. 2010

He used knowledge of technology and contemporary art to reflect on traditional cultural identities. He was vastly concerned with bringing together aspects of the past with the present. One Candle, One Projection, 1988-2000, is the centerpiece of the exhibition, and one can only grasp its power by experiencing it in the large, dark exhibition room. The dim lighting of the viewing space is ideal for the meditative concepts here. A single candle is lit everyday and a multiplicity of projections move, flicker and interact as the viewer is invited to watch. Time, or the passage of time, is of the essence.

In seeing the Paik exhibition, I appreciated this modern artist’s ability to think about the contemporary aims of the society within which he was working and then make a statement. Personally, he disliked the passivity of television but could not ignore its influence on culture. In an ironic play on this notion, his Standing Buddha with an Outstretched hand is a meditation on the act of watching, using a traditional bronze sculpture as a backdrop to the modern technology. Time passes, but the statue stays the same, and Paik effectively made a statement on the meaning of television in life while connecting it to traditional meditation. Paik was trained a a classical musician and was friends with John Cage.

Three Eggs, 1975-1982
video installation with closed circuit camera, Sony KV-4000 Color Television Receiver, emptied Sony KV-4000 Color Television Receiver, and 2 hen eggs

Nam June Paik Estate
© Nam June Paik Studios, Inc. 2010

Like 20th century artists of the Dada, Surrealist and Conceptual movements, his Three Eggs reflects on the question of what is real and what is image. Three Eggs is 1) a video camera projecting on an egg; 2) a tv screen showing the projected image of this egg, and 3) a tv monitor with the screen removed– replaced by an egg. There is irony and humor, but the passage of time is important to these 3 images, as well, having been made over 7 years. It reminds the student of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs or Rene Magritte’s Treason of Images, 1929, works found in most art history textbooks.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Kerry James Marshall

In My Mother’s Home There are Many Mansions, 1994, by Kerry James Marshall, Denver Museum of Art

Kerry James Marshall, a preeminent artist of today, presents a strong voice of an identity for a middle-aged African
American who has witnessed changes in his lifetime. He addresses issues of race and culture in a Post-Modern style that recognizes past, current and other issues that his generation has faced. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955, but moved to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1963, a fact not lost on the subjects of his paintings.

Marshall paints large acrylic canvas and plexi-glass images with wit and irony. Sometimes he’s influenced by comic books and in other ways he commands the authority of historical paintings, using a structure he says is inspired by artists like Gericault. In his Post-Modern style of art, it’s easy to see the inspiration of many twentieth century movements, such as the collage effects of Cubism and splashes like an Abstract Expressionist painting. One would guess he is great admirer of Romare Bearden, too. But he combines these historical styles with realism and most of all he presents an urban, black culture without taking himself, or life, too seriously. In a series of large paintings from 1994, he portrayed life in various public housing complexes, particularly in Chicago, where he currently lives. He hints at both undesirable aspects of these complexes, and certain joys that can come through community, such as the planting flowers and Easter baskets. In his own words, he believed that moments of happiness and finding the goodness of life can still be present. Marshall’s titles cleverly make us think about things with references to larger society. One example: “Better Homes, Better Gardens.” However, the housing projects are just one of the many themes that Marshall has been exploring in his art.

The Stile, 1993, a view inside the barbershop, is now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Marshall grew up primarily in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

All of Marshall’s paintings relate to his identity as an African American. The people he paints are indeed very black, the deepness of their color being the theme of his presentatio
n. One painting called Black Painting is black on black, with many variations of black. He was inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, recognizing how it was so possible to be present yet invisible in American life.

A recent series is of vignettes, romances meant to be a footnote to a larger story. In these illustrations, he flirts with kitsch, the type of art that is supposed to make you the viewer feel good and good about yourself for liking it. He makes these paintings primarily monochromatic; specifically they are almost exclusively painted in shades of black, white and gray. In contrast to these neutral tones, pink hearts accent the sky, reminding us of the fun of romance.

Vignette #6, 2005

Marshall often portrays couples and seems to like the balance of male and fema
le in his large, major paintings as well as those paintings presented in pairs. Love seems to be a recurring theme in his art, but so is the home, whether it is outside in an urban setting, or an interior where groups of unrelated people can meet and congregate in a domestic setting. He is witty but never trite.

Souvenir III, 1998, is in a series of memorializing paintings, this one in the collection of MoMA, New York

In a group of paintings dedicated to deceased heroes of African American achievement and the Civil Rights movement, he always includes a living woman with glittered angel wings in the composition, a so-called living angel. Those who are above in a heavenl
y enclave also have wings. These interior settings resemble a living room, and Marshall hints that feelings of tranquility in the present life are possible because others have gone beforehand and made things better. He leaves the viewer with a lot to contemplate, without making his message too obtuse or complex. Even if a subject, like romance, seems commonplace, we always must take Marshall seriously and stop to observe what he is communicating.

Marshall decided to become an artist at age five, when his kindergarten teacher brought out a scrapbook of pictures…..Thankfully, he never changed his mind and he continues to show us a diverse display of the ideas and pictures that have shaped a colorful life.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Seattle’s New Architecture

The Space Needle and Frank Gehry’s Experience Music define Seattle, along with the Library. 

Seattle’s new Library is a busy place. Completed in 2004, it is made up of steel diamond shapes, holding the glass–letting lots of light inside for this typically rainy city. It integrates all kinds of new technologies into the library’s traditional function. Rem Koolhaas is the architect. Both Koolhaas and Frank Gehry rely on CAD-(computer-aided) design.

The main building of Olympic Sculpture Park, above and below, was finished in 2008 and has won architectural awards. It is by the husband and wife team of Weiss/Manfredi

Nearby is the Space Needle, but it seems to “deconstruct”
in front of Experience Music Building, designed by
Frank Gehry in the late 1990s.

Mass transit comes right inside to the front of the building.

The entry gives only a glimpse of the ever-changing colors
and shapes, in and out.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016