Image courtesy of Leon Gallery International
Culture Art

Leon Gallery and Gagosian are staging landmark show of 'father of video art'

For the first time ever, a landmark exhibit of works by the ‘father of video art’ is coming to the Philippines via León Gallery International and Gagosian Gallery.
Monchito Nocon | Oct 17 2018

When video art—defined by the Tate Modern as “art that involves the use of video and /or audio data and relies on moving pictures”—first made waves in the art world in the 1960s, its advent would yet make its ripples felt on our shores; or rather, it would only make its presence felt in a significant way in the beginning of the 1970s, a decade later, thanks to the early explorations on the medium of video by the likes of Johnny Manahan—yes, Mr. M—then a visual artist and later a prolific and highly-creative television director.

The artist is said to have coined the phrase “electronic superhighway”

While it’s hard to tell without further research if video art continued on or flourished in the country as the 80s and 90s rolled on, video art found its way to local exhibitions in the early 2000s—in galleries and elsewhere. There was ‘Interruption’ at the Big Sky Mind Gallery in 2001, perhaps the first all-video art show in the Philippines. There was the End Frame Video Art Project from 2006 and 2007—with a small bunch of Filipino artists including Martha Atienza, Tad Ermitaño, Poklong Anading, and Gary Ross Pastrana practicing the medium to a hilt, exploiting the possibilities made available by emerging technology then.

Within and amongst this circle of art practitioners, one name is held in reverence, a rockstar if you will: the late Nam June Paik.

An important member of the international avant-garde, Korean-American Nam June Paik segued from classical music (having trained in Germany but subsequently settling in New York City) to become the recognized ‘father of video art’—foreseeing the influence of the television screen and the internet not only on art but on the world at large.

The artist didn't care if his works sold or not.

Poklong Anading himself finds ‘Moon is the oldest TV,’ Paik’s piece from 1965, particularly influential. “This work is inspirational, [you can see it] in my first video project, and I’m still pursuing the idea [behind it] until now.”

Paik, ever the visionary, astutely grasped that advances in consumer technology were not merely fleeting oddities; ultimately, they would have a lasting impact on culture, sex and politics, coining the now iconic term “electronic superhighway” to express the many facets of multi-media artforms and communications.

Now, in what is undoubtedly a coup of sorts, the first Philippine exhibition of  the artist’s works will be staged by León Gallery International, a subsidiary of leading auction house León Gallery. Dubbed "Nam June Paik in Manila," to be held on October 22, 2018 at its newest premises at the ground floor of the Corinthian Plaza (121 Paseo de Roxas, Makati), the exhibit is held in partnership with the Gagosian Gallery which has represented the Nam June Paik estate since 2015.

Responsible for making "Nam June Paik in Manila" happen is Ken Hakuta, who I had the pleasure of meeting during a specially organized lunch affair for the event. The show will feature 24 groundbreaking pieces from 1983 to 2005, eclectic video works that blur the lines between art and technology, the past and the future, philosophy and commercialism.

Ken Hakuta

Slight, bespectacled, and sporting a shirt painted on by Nam June Paik himself, Mr. Hakuta is Paik’s nephew and the administrator of his “crazy uncle’s” estate, as well as an inventor, former technocrat, and erstwhile TV host. He revealed that it is almost a miracle that the exhibition is even happening, given that Larry Gagosian, one of the top art dealers in the world, is one tough man to convince.

“Negotiations with Gagosian Gallery took less than 2 months,” the affable and rather quirky Mr. Hakuta said. “They did a thorough check on León Gallery and it all checked out very well.”  That this is only the second time Gagosian is doing this in 20 or so years shows that this is no small feat.

Among the pieces to be exhibited is “One Candle” with an analog-live candle ensconced in a tv casing. Then, there’s “TV Buddha” that has the Gautama contemplating his own image captured on closed-circuit TV. Also, Paik’s fascination with robots, another prophetic obsession, comes into view with “Bakelite Robot”, which is covered in TV screens as well as blinking electric lights.

Works on canvas—as well as entire video cameras and radio-television—combine graffiti elements or smiling TVs with instantly recognizable color-bars.  Images of Paik's fellow artists from the Fluxus movement such as its founder George Maciunas as well as longtime muse Charlotte Moorman and counter-culture conspirator Joseph Bueys will also be on view.

“He was not that prolific in terms of output,” Mr. Hakuta told me when I ask how many of Paik’s works exist. “If I were to put a number to it, there are probably 1,200 maybe, a lot in museums and a lot in private hands.” 

And since Paik’s works deal with now obsolete electronics and technology, I ask Mr. Hakuta how these are maintained and preserved.

“That’s an interesting question,” he said. “There’s a whole conservation symposium on this issue. [Like] if the TV goes out, what do you do? There’s only so many old TVs you can buy to replace them. But in museums we want to keep the basic chassis and put a flat screen there—there are many ways to do it in order for it to look the same.”

Before the lunch affair came to an end and Mr. Hakuta was off to his next appointment, I ask if his uncle was ever consciously aware that what he was producing was actually art.

“He was simply doing what he wanted to do. He didn’t care if it was actually sold or not.  He would go bankrupt doing his art because buying electronics was very expensive.” 

Click on image below for slideshow

Flux Forever (George Maciunas), 2003 

Mein Freund (Joseph Beuys), 2003 

One Candle, 2004 

Untitled (Bogart from Casablanca), 1996 

Untitled, 1996 

Untitled (Video Magnavox Camera) 2005 

Untitled, 1996 

Untitled, 2005 

Untitled, 1993