June 12, 2009 - Smithsonian American Art Museum - Nam June Paik Archive
June 12, 2009

Nam June Paik Archive

Selections from the Nam June Paik Archive
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Nam June Paik Estate
Photo by Gene Young.

Nam June Paik Archive


The Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired the complete estate archive of the artist Nam June Paik (1932-2006), one of the most influential artists of his generation who transformed television and video into artists’ media. Paik’s art and ideas embodied a radical new vision for an art form that was embraced around the world and changed global visual culture. With this acquisition, the museum becomes the institution of record for understanding this provocative artist’s profound impact on the art world and for understanding the history of the moving image in 20th-century art.

The Nam June Paik Archive consists of research material, documentation, correspondence, sculptural robots, and video and television technology. It provides unprecedented insight into Paik’s creative process, his sources of inspiration and the communities of artists on three continents with whom he worked for more than five decades beginning in the 1950s. The collective archive includes thousands of individual items that will be cataloged during the next several years.

John G. Hanhardt, consulting senior curator for film and media arts at the museum since 2006, is leading the effort to organize the Nam June Paik Archive and establish a study center at the museum. He is the foremost expert in Paik’s work, and was the organizing curator for two landmark exhibitions, the first in 1982 at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the second a retrospective presented as the first exhibition of the new millennium in 2000 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The archive includes early writings on art, history and technology, correspondence with key artists and collaborators such as Charlotte Moorman and Wolf Vostell, a complete collection of videotapes used in his work, production notes for videotape and television projects, sketches, notebooks, models and plans for video installations. Highlights include Paik’s hand-drawn plans for the Paik-Abe video synthesizer and documentation of large-scale television projects, such as “Guadalcanal Requiem” (1977/1979), and installations, including the massive “The More the Better” (1988). The archive also includes a full range of technology that Paik worked with, including a variety of early models of televisions and video projectors, old radios, record players, cameras and musical instruments supplemented by technical manuals. Additional materials that provide insight into Paik’s career are unpublished interviews, audiotapes, vintage photographs, documentation of early Fluxus performances from before and after Paik’s move to New York City in 1964, flyers, announcements, posters, catalogs and works in progress. A variety of toys, games, folk sculptures, banners, wall hangings and the desk where he painted in his studio are also part of the archive.

The museum has several significant works by Paik on permanent public view, including “Zen for TV” (1963/1976) and two of his ambitious and massive video walls, “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii” (1995) and “Megatron/Matrix” (1995).

The Nam June Paik Archive is a gift of the Paik Estate through executor Ken Hakuta, the artist’s nephew and an emeritus member of the museum’s advisory board of commissioners, with the agreement of Shigeko Kubota, the artist’s widow. The estate invited selected museums to present proposals for how each would use the archive. The Smithsonian American Art Museum, with its record of preserving major artist archives including those of Joseph Cornell, Gene Davis, William H. Johnson and the definitive record of Christo and Jean-Claude’s seminal project “Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, A Documentation Exhibition,” was eager to add the significant Paik Archive to its holdings. Once the archive is fully cataloged, it will be made available to curators and scholars by appointment.

An interview with Hanhardt about the Paik Archive is available on the museum’s blog Eye Level, and the full press release is available at americanart.si.edu/pr/.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the vision and creativity of Americans with approximately 41,500 artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries. Follow the museum on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, ArtBabble, iTunes and YouTube.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
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