The Robot’s Salute
Whimsical and endearing, yet also solemnly majestic, Fat Boy (Lot 624) raises a robust TV-arm in reverential salute to Paik Nam June at the 10-year anniversary of the video art maestro’s death. With its glossy mahogany finish, luxurious wicker panels and lustrous knobs and dials, the current lot is amongst the sleekest, most sophisticated and charismatic of the artist’s career-defining TV robots. Fat Boy’s pose, with one arm raised and one arm pointing in the classical pose of oratory and leadership, is particularly striking and poignant: while in 1947 Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt (“Pointing Man”) constituted a symbol of humanity and civilisation in the aftermath of wartime horror, Fat Boy’s resonant stance is a commanding warning and plea for a humanist approach to the new and overpowering influx of technology.
Paik is hailed transnationally as the ‘Father of Video Art’, being the first artist in the world to both embrace and critically respond to the new and overwhelming phenomenon of technology in the 1960s. With a pioneering, genre-defying oeuvre that amalgamated science, engineering and fine art, Paik’s visionary creations simultaneously celebrate and subvert technology, reshaping our perceptions and constituting immeasurable influence on artists of the late-twentieth century. The artist’s first robot, the celebrated Robot K-456, was created in 1964, followed by his crowd-pleasing Family of Robot series from 1986 onwards. Ken Hakuta, Paik’s nephew and executor, commented: “I don’t really think of Nam June as a technologist. […] He wanted to redefine television [not as a] passive object, but [as] an object that we interact with. We control our destiny. He was a humanist; he wanted to humanize everything.”1
Paik was originally a student of music pursuing advanced studies in Germany under renowned musical composers. After meeting John Cage in 1958, and through him Marcel Duchamp as well as the avant-garde Fluxus network, Paik embarked on a legendary transition from composer to performance artist and ultimately inventor of a radical new art form. Paik’s first solo exhibition, entitled "Exposition of Music – Electronic Television" in Wuppertal, Germany in 1963, engaged critically with the material site of television that had newly become a permanent fixture in households. Armed with the lighthearted humor and biting satire of Fluxus, Paik launched a prescient, prophetic discourse of resistance against television and mass media—a treatise he continued to develop throughout his career via a vast array of sculptures, installations, performances, ‘post-video’ satellite broadcasts and even laser projections. Resplendent in polished wood and brass hardware, the current lot stands in loyal and loving testament to Paik’s extraordinary legacy in the global art history canon.
 Melissa Chiu, “Ok, Let’s Go to Blimpies: Talking about Nam June Paik”, Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot, Asia Society Museum, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 40
Paik Nam June (1932 – 2006, South Korea) fled Korea during the Civil War, first travelling to Hong Kong and later to Japan in 1950. He studied Art History and Music Composition at the University of Tokyo before pursuing further study in Music History and Composition at Munich University and the Freiburg Conservatory in Europe. Paik met John Cage in Germany in 1958 and quickly became involved in the avant-garde Fluxus art movement, later settling in New York in 1964 and collaborating with famous artists and performers including Josef Beuys, Merce Cunningham and David Bowie. In 1974 Paik coined the phrase “electronic superhighway” to describe the exponential growth of new forms of communication, foretelling the advent of personal computers, instant messaging and the proliferation of electronic media. Landmark solo exhibitions have been held at the Tokyo Museum of Art, the Paris Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, amongst many others. Paik received the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1993 and created installation works at the Paris Pompidou Centre, and the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.