Lot 1073
  • 1073

Paik Nam June

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Paik Nam June
  • So Wol Kim
  • five antique radio boxes, five televisions, one DVD player with accompanying DVD, red neon tubes, electrical components and two yellow lights
signed in Hanja and English and dated 98


Galerie Bhak, Seoul
Private Collection
Phillips, London, 13 October 2007, lot 14
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


Italy, Florence, Museo Leonardiano di Vinci, Nam June Paik a Vinci: Arte all'Arte, Rinascimento-Nascimento, 16 March - 16 June 2002
Italy, Turin, Palazzo Cavour, Il giocoliere elettronico: Nam June Paik e l'invenzione della videoarte, 14 September - 17 November 2002
Italy, Bologna, Carisbo San Paolo, Palazzo di Residenza, Tra Arte e Sceinza, October 2006

Catalogue Note

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Galerie Bhak, Seoul, Korea.

The Song of the Robot Poet

Paik Nam June

In 1982, a life-size metal anthropomorphic robot ambled down Madison Avenue in New York City, attracting amused stares for his funky wired and paneled exterior and lumbering, ungainly movements. At one point hit by a car, Robot K-456 continued, undeterred, in its signature crippled stroll, broadcasting a recording of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address and defecating dried white beans. Created in 1964 in collaboration with electronics engineer and physicist Shuya Abe, the 20-channel radio-controlled Robot K-456 was the first of Paik Nam June’s iconic and widely coveted robot sculptures; far from being a dysfunctional prototype, the metallic skeletal humanoid became quite the unlikely celebrity in the contemporary art scene, performing first in private spaces and then on the streets as part of the Second Annual New York Avant-Garde Festival.

Robot K-456 was named poetically, if somewhat audaciously, after Mozart’s piano concerto Köchel’s Catalogue No. 456, a reference to Paik’s originating aesthetic endeavors in music. In a similar manner, the title of the current lot So Wol Kim (1998) (Lot 1073) pays direct tribute to early modern Korean poet Kim Sowol, one of the first of Paik’s diverse musical influences. In his days as a student of music at the University of Tokyo in the mid-1940s Paik was inspired by Kim’s beautifully poignant, folk song-styled poems, using them as material for his own musical compositions. It was only later that Paik, under the influence of polemical Austrian composer Arnold Schönberg, began to produce atonal music. Upon venturing to Germany in the late 1950s Paik met and collaborated with visionary musicians John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as artists Marchel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys, transforming his musical oeuvre into a formidable multidimensional practice splicing together music, raw sound, performance and movement.

In 1961, Paik was invited to join Fluxus by George Maciunas, founder of the Neo-Dada movement. During this time he began working with television and technology, and his 1963 exhibition “Exposition of Music – Electronic Television” at Wuppertal’s Galerie Parnass marked the start of his transition from composer and performance artist to the revered “Father of Video Art” that he is known as today. Engaging critically and inventively with the material site of television as instrument, Paik integrated art and technology in a provocative yet lighthearted commentary on machines and mass media, forging a visually compelling, conceptually rigorous and wholly innovative new aesthetic. His repertoire expanded to include satellite transmissions and lasers, blending sculpture and installation with digital electronics; and 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.

Crowd-pleasing with a satirical yet playful vibe, Paik’s progressive works are simultaneously wistful and prophetic, provoking reflection through the humanization of machines. The cutting-edge Robot K-456 was created shortly after Paik’s 1964 move to the United States, a time when robotics was still in its infancy. While Robot K-456 was unabashedly handmade, featuring deliberately exposed cables and electronic innards, it was followed by the more polished, much celebrated Family of Robot series in 1986, fabricated from colorful vintage televisions and radios. These robot sculptures incorporate Paik’s affinity for family, grounding his futuristic inventions in a profound and tender humanity. The current lot was created in 1998, two years after Paik suffered from a stroke in 1996 in the final wheelchair-bound ten years of his life: echoing the figurative style of the poignantly definitive 1986 Family series, So Wol Kim represents the video art maestro’s remembrance of and homage to his earliest inspirations, as a final reflection on the course of his extraordinary career.