William Wegm's "Untitled" (1973) / Courtesy of Centre Pompidou and MMCA
Contemporary art museum looks back on legacy of Paik, other pioneers
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Video has been a revolutionary force in contemporary art and its influence has become even greater with the advent of smartphones and YouTube.
''Video Vintage: 1963-1983,'' the latest exhibition at the Gwacheon branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), takes visitors back to the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s when the concept of what we now define as "video art'' first took place. Highlighted are the works of late Korean media artist Paik Nam-june and iconic film director Jean Luc-Godard.
Video art, by definition, borrows heavily from the elements of television and movies.
Fred Barzyk and WGBH's "Video: The New Wave" (1973)
But museums had been displaying them in a similar way they do paintings, with visitors sitting on a bench and watching these works play over large screens.
MMCA has made efforts to provide a more interesting experience, showing them in unique spaces designed to resemble your father's living room. The works are displayed in old television sets produced during the time when the artists announced these creations and the decorative furniture in the background matches those eras as well.
The exhibition was organized by Christine van Assche, chief curator of Centre Pompidou's ''new media'' department, and features several works from contemporary French artists. However, the predominant focus of the exhibition was on Paik, who spent most of his time as an artist in France.
Van Assche said Pompidou's new media collection has about 1,700 videos, audios and multimedia installations of which 72 of them have been picked for display in Gwacheon.
ANT FARM's "The Eternal Frame" (1976)
She said the concept of the current exhibition was inspired by the artist group Ant Farm's 1976 work, ''The Eternal Frame,'' when they created living room-like viewing spaces for their video works on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The works were displayed under three themes ― ''Performance and Filmic Self-portrait,'' ''Television: Research, Experimentation, Criticism'' and ''Attitudes, Forms, Concepts.''
The exhibit begins with a timeline covering the history of video art. Paik's ''Exhibition of Music _ Electronic Television,'' first unveiled at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal, Germany in 1963, is widely considered the first definitive work in that category.
The first section ''Performance and Filmic Self-portrait'' explores the relation between video art and performing arts during the former's development period. Paik's ''Button Happening,'' his recording of himself using a portable Sony camcorder, is one of the works featured there.
Another interesting piece on display is ''Arena Quad I + II,'' a video work by playwright Samuel Beckett, who was interested in experimenting a form of technology-aided theater where actors move around geometrical sets.
Another Korean-born artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's ''Mouth to Mouth'' and ''Permutations'' takes linguistics and semiotics into video art. Other artists featured in the exhibition include Bill Viola, Fred Barzyk, Paul McCarthy, Les Levine and Joseph Beuys.
The quality of these videos will feel grainy to a generation of visitors spoiled with high-definition screens. Still, the exhibition was a powerful representation of the early pioneers in video art.
The exhibit runs through Dec. 31. Admission is 2,000 won. For more information, visit www.mmca.go.kr/engN or call (02) 2188-6114.