Nam June Paik was a South Korean-born American artist. He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the first video artist. He is considered by some to have been the author of the phrase “Information Superhighway”, which, according to his own account, he used in a Rockefeller Foundation paper in 1974.
Born in Seoul, Paik had four older brothers and a father who worked as a textile manufacturer. As he was growing up, he was trained as a classical pianist. In 1950, Paik and his family had to flee from their home in Korea, during the Korean War. His family first fled to Hong Kong, but later moved to Japan, for reasons unknown. Six years later he graduated from the University of Tokyo where he wrote a thesis on the composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Paik then moved to Germany to study the history of music at Munich University. While studying in Germany, Paik met the composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage and the conceptual artists Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell who inspired him to work in the field of electronic art.
Pre-Bell-Man, statue in front of the ‘Museum für Kommunikation’, Frankfurt am Main, GermanyNam June Paik then began participating in the Neo-Dada art movement, known as Fluxus, which was inspired by the composer John Cage, and his use of everyday sounds and noises in his music. He made his big debut at an exhibition known as Exposition of Music-Electronic Television, in which he scattered televisions everywhere, and used magnets to alter or distort their images.
In 1964, Paik moved to New York, and began working with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman, to combine his video, music, and performance. In the work TV Cello, the pair stacked televisions on top one another, so that they formed the shape of an actual cello. When Moorman drew her bow across the “cello,” images of both her playing, and images of other cellists playing appeared on the screens. In 1965, Sony introduced the Portapak. With this, Paik could both move and record things, for it was the first portable video and audio recorder. From there, Paik became an international celebrity, known for his creative and entertaining works. 
In a notorious 1967 incident, Charlotte Moorman was arrested for going topless while performing in Paik’s Opera Sextronique. Two years later, in 1969, they performed TV Bra for Living Sculpture, in which Charlotte wore a bra with small TV screens over her breasts. Paik developed the idea of an “Electronic Superhighway” as early as 1974 in his text “Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society”. Many of Paik’s early works and writings are collected in a volume edited by Judson Rosebush titled Nam June Paik: Videa ‘n’ Videology 1959-1973, published by the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York, in 1974.
In another work, Something Pacific (1986), a statue of a sitting Buddha faces its image on a closed circuit television. (The piece is part of the Stuart Collection of public art at the University of California, San Diego.) Another piece, Positive Egg, displays a white egg on a black background. In a series of video monitors, increasing in size, the image on the screen becomes larger and larger, until the egg itself becomes an abstract, unrecognizable shape. In Video Fish, from 1975, a series of aquariums arranged in a horizontal line contain live fish swimming in front of an equal number of monitors which show video images of other fish.
Paik’s 1995 piece Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, on permanent display at the Lincoln Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is a stunning example of his cultural criticism. With this piece, Paik offers up his commentary about an American culture obsessed with television, the moving image, and bright shiny things.
Detail of Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, HawaiiPaik was also known for making robots out of television sets. These were constructed using pieces of wire and metal, but later Paik used parts from radio and television sets. A retrospective of Paik’s work was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the spring of 1982. During the New Year’s Day celebration in January 1, 1984, he aired Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, a live link between WNET New York, Centre Pompidou Paris, and South Korea. With the participation of John Cage, Salvador Dalí, Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, Merce Cunningham, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, George Plimpton, and other artists, Paik showed that George Orwell’s Big Brother hadn’t arrived. In 1986, Paik created the work Bye Bye Kipling, a tape that mixed live events from Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo, Japan and New York. Two years later, in 1988 he further showed his love for his home with a piece called The more the better, a giant tower made entirely of one thousand three monitors for the Olympic Games being held at Seoul.
In 1996, Nam June Paik had a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. A final retrospective of his work was held in 2000 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, integrating the unique space of the museum into the exhibition itself. This coincided with a downtown gallery showing of video artworks by his wife Shigeko Kubota, mainly dealing with his recovery from the stroke. Nam June Paik died January 29, 2006, in Miami, Florida, due to natural causes.
Ackland Art Museum (University of North Carolina), the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York), the Art Museum of the Americas (Washington D.C.), DaimlerChrysler Collection (Berlin), Fukuoka Art Museum (Fukuoka, Japan), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.), the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Kunsthalle zu Kiel (Germany), Kunstmuseum St.Gallen (Switzerland), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Dusseldorf, Germany), Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst (Aachen, Germany), Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum Wiesbaden (Germany), the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), the National Museum of Contemporary Art (Athens, Greece), Palazzo Cavour (Turin, Italy), the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Schleswig-Holstein Museums (Germany), the Smart Museum of Art (University of Chicago), Smith College Museum of Art (Massachusetts), the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), the Stuart Collection (University of California, San Diego), and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota) are among the public collections holding work by Nam June Paik.