Student: 6,000 won
* Closed every Monday of the month
1-1.Jang Seungeop, Still Life
1-2.Nam June Paik, Video Chandelier No.1
Still Life by Jang Seungeop and the installation work, Video Chandelier No. 1 by Nam June Paik are shown together. Jang Seungeop’s Still Life originally included 10 paintings, but only four of these paintings are shown at this exhibition. The subjects of the individual paintings are lotus flowers, fish hanging from the desk, an incense burner and daffodils (水仙花), and an antique bronze vessel and autumn fruits. The lotus symbolizes a man of virtue. Lotus roots symbolize a wish for the prosperity of one’s descendants. Two fish symbolize a wish for something auspicious. The daffodil symbolizes a wish for living a decent life like an immortal given that the Chinese characters for daffodil (水仙花) refer an immortal living under water. Fruits harvested in autumn such as persimmons and chestnuts are subjects that express the wish that things will go well and that one’s descendants will prosper. Chandeliers have been used since antiquity, in Greece. The first type of chandelier was a candle that was stood up to provide lighting. Later, in the Renaissance period and afterwards, the chandelier became less functional and more decorative for interiors. The chandelier is a luxury of the upper class. Nam June Paik produced Video Chandelier No. 1 in 1989. He hung a number of small TVs on a chandelier. Paik might have attached very special meaning to small TVs, which everyone uses as a window of information and entertainment, hanging on the chandelier, a symbol of wealth. Paik seemingly aspired to an era where everybody lives in abundance. These two works speak for the viewpoints of the ancients and the masters of modern times about the happiness and wealth that are within reach for everyone.
2-1. Sim Sajeong, Road to Shu Scroll
2-2. Nam June Paik, Elephant Cart
Sim Sajeong painted Road to Shu on a scroll at the age of sixty-three. It is equally as much a masterpiece as any formally designated national treasure of Korea. Shu was an ancient state in what is now Sichuan Province, China, and the road to Shu was so rugged and treacherous that the Chinese poet Li Bai felt compelled to say, ‘to walk the road to Shu is more difficult than to climb up to the sky.’ Following from the left to the right on this painting, the rugged mountain path and deep valleys with winding waterways continue seemingly without end. Viewers can imagine the hardships of life in a natural way. At the left where the picture ends are ships under sail moving peacefully somewhere before the wind. This reminds us of the peace and comfort enjoyed in the later years by those who have survived to the end after overcoming hardships early in life.
Nam June Paik’s Elephant Cart seems to represent the history of man. In the past, sending and receiving letters or meeting people face to face after traveling a long distance were the only ways to exchange information. A long time ago, elephants were used as a means of travel, and they were considered auspicious animals. The sight of Buddha riding on the back of an elephant under a yellow umbrella is witty. Buddha has completely loaded his cart with TV sets. Information used to be the exclusive domain of the privileged class, but today, all people share information easily through TV. Nam June Paik expressed an ideal world where everyone benefits from mass media. Sim Sajeong seems to be talking about sincerity while doing our best at every moment, making us realize the meaning of life. Nam June Paik has pursued the ideal means of humanizing technology related to information and communication of our era, in which information rapidly changes through its sharing and transmission.
3-1. Nam June Paik, Rabbit Inhabits the Moon
3-2. Jang Seungeop, Dog Barks at the Moon under the Empress Tree
‘The moon is the oldest TV.’ These are the famous words of Nam June Paik. He produced a number of works based on these words. One of them is Rabbit Inhabits the Moon. A rabbit made of wood stares endlessly at the moon shown on a TV. We all know that there is no rabbit on the moon, but we still imagine it. It would be meaningless to talk about whether or not scientific fact is superior to poetic imagination because it is our imagination that creates contents for TV created by science and technology.
The Koreans long ago produced many paintings about the moon. Jang Seungeop’s Dog Barks at the Moon under the Empress Tree is one of them. At midnight in the light of the full moon, chrysanthemums look all the more yellow. Is the dog afraid of winter soon to come, evidenced by the leaves of the paulownia tree falling one-by-one? Or is it that he knows these chrysanthemums are the last flowers that will remain in bloom this year? In the night with the full moon, the dog turned his head and is looking at the chrysanthemums. Maybe Jang Seungeop entrusted his feelings to a dog passing by. The poetic mood is beautiful. Through the subject matter of the moon, these two masters appear to say that our imagination and poetic sensibilities are not severed with our past and present, but will continue in the future as long as humanity exists.
4-1. Nam June Paik, Zen for Head
4-2. Kim Myeongguk, Cheolgoe(A Taoist Hermit)
We live a fine life thanks to rules and norms. However, some of the strict rules and norms which prevailed in times past have gradually lost meaning, and they cannot easily be replaced or reinstated by anybody. Changes always come to us silently and are here before we know it. When we finally recognize the change, the time has already passed. Only a few very sensitive and intuitive genius artists preempt change. And they project their will for change in the art medium through breakthrough and deviation. This was no less true of John Cage, one of the greatest American artists. His most famous avant-garde musical composition, 4′ 33″ consists of the pianist not hitting any keys for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Instead, he recorded people rumbling and automobiles honking their horns. This avant-garde foray changed the consciousness of many people. Much in the same spirit is Nam June Paik’s Zen for Head. Nam June Paik soaked his hair in ink and then drew a line on a long piece of paper with his head. This is a kind of Zen meditation ritual. This is a masterpiece in which a part of the master, who tried each and every hour of every single day to sublimate the act of Zen meditation, is smeared.
Painter Kim Myeongguk (1600–?) applied liberal, individual strokes in his work. He was active during the reigns of King Hyojong and King Injo, and was very fond of drinking. So much so that he had the penname ‘Chwiong’ meaning ‘drunken old man.’ He was also a man who did not want to be bound by formalities or rules. The main character called ‘Cheolgoe’ painted by Kim Myeongguk is one of the eight Taoist immortals. His free and open brush strokes are truly exceptional. The old man Shoulao in Kim Myeongguk’s Shoulao Leading a Turtle is a god of longevity who travels with a turtle. Kim’s painting style of impromptu brush strokes in light ink imparts a feeling of extraordinariness.
5-1. Choe Buk, In Absorption Looking at the Wate
5-2. Nam June Paik, TV Buddha
Choe Buk’s In Absorption Looking at the Water depicts a monk looking down on the water. A small piece of paper placed in front of the monk seems to carry a part of a scripture. We cannot tell whether the consciousness of the monk has not yet completely reached his real self inside or he is still obsessed with the water or what is said in the scripture. Whatever the case, enlightenment is a challenging subject. It may be rare introspection that we experience all of a sudden when we intuit that each and every one of ourselves and the outside object are one, not two.
In Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha series produced in 1974 and 2002, Buddha is staring at his own image projected on the TV screen. When a viewer tries to see Buddha on the TV, his or her own image appears on the TV. This implies that all the viewers are Buddha. It may also imply that when someone stares at himself or herself and concentrates on who and what he or she is, that person will experience rare enlightenment. This installation work is a masterpiece which exerted considerable influence on Western academia. The ancient painting and the modern master artist’s installation will show our consciousness becoming mature through introspection
6-1. Choe Buk, Laughter of Three Men in Hogye
6-2. Nam June Paik, Schubert
6-3. Nam June Paik, Yul Gok
6-4. Nam June Paik, Charlie Chaplin
Laughter of Three Men in Hogye portrays three men laughing by a river from the Chinese proverb three laugh at Tiger Brook. It came from the story of the recluse monk Huiyuan (334–416) of Eastern Jin who always walked his guests out but never went further than the valley called Fuki (Tiger Valley). One day, poet Tao Yuanming (365–427) and Taoist Lu Xiujing (406–477) visited him. As usual, Huiyuan walked them out. After having a congenial talk with them, they only realized that they had passed the Tiger Brook when they heard the roar of the tiger. Then, they laughed together. This was a moment when Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism became one in harmony.
Among Nam June Paik’s robot series are Schubert, Yulgok, and Charlie Chaplin. Schubert consists of nine antique vacuum-tube radios of different shapes. The robot wears a red cone hat which is in fact a gramophone speaker, which reminds us that this robot is a musician. The two legs of Yulgok, a great philosopher of Joseon, are depicted with two rounded cornered radios, which reminds us of a literati scholar sitting up straight. The three-stranded antennas on his two arms depict the robe of a literati scholar. Charlie Chaplin is a robot of the famous English comic actor. The body is composed of five vintage TV monitors and bulbs, expressing nostalgia for the silent picture days. All of the three – Schubert, Yulgok, and Charlie Chaplin – realized talents given to them and faithfully pursued their life work. Although they lived in different times and places, they are all alive in our hearts forever.