From August 18 to November 11, 2001, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Double Feature: Paul Kos and Nam June Paik. Organized by Benjamin Weil, SFMOMA curator of media arts, the exhibition features Tokyo Rose by Paul Kos and Nam June Paik’s Egg Grows, offering viewers an opportunity to experience imaginative works that influenced an extensive variety of later media art projects. On view for the first time in over a decade, both early experimental works explore how technological advances served to propel artists into the arena of media applications in art.
The works in SFMOMA’s second Double Feature presentation highlight a defining moment in the history of video art that continues to impact artists currently working in time-based media. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, media artists Paul Kos and Nam June Paik began to approach video as installation or “sculpture” as opposed to single-channel work presented on a small screen. By altering the audience’s experience of viewing video, Kos and Paik recontextualized our perceptions of the medium in relation to other art forms, inserting early media art in the larger context of artistic practice.
Tokyo Rose, 1975–76
This early work by the San Francisco–based conceptual artist Paul Kos presents a thought-provoking representation of the metaphorical seduction of video as new territory for creative exploration in the mid-1970s.
Tokyo Rose is a human-size “flytrap” containing a suspended monitor. A low voice coaxes the viewer into the installation, continually murmuring reassurances while relentlessly suggesting capitulation. Elaborating on the persona of radio personality Tokyo Rose, who broadcast propaganda to American troops during World War II, Kos delivers a message as compelling and persuasive as the voice emitted from behind the screen.
Paul Kos began experimenting with the mesmerizing capabilities of video while teaching at Santa Clara University. Kos’ profound conceptual art quickly established him as a major presence on the Bay Area Conceptual art scene. Other well-known works by Kos include Tower of Babel, 1988–90, an intriguing visual and aural installation that explores the biblical subject of Babylon through the appropriated form of a spiral steel structure and 20 color television monitors. Kos is currently a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Nam June Paik
Egg Grows, 1984–89
This significant work of the 1980s presents pioneering Korean-born video artist Nam June Paik’s answer to the timeless question: The egg came first. Dryly referred to as still-life performance installation, Egg Grows reveals the sly humor of the artist, who offers the viewer evolutionary images of a simple egg. In the hush of a darkened gallery, an egg “performs” for the camera. Images of varying size, growing increasingly larger, are relayed by a series of eight tilted monitors that also increase in size proportionate to the displayed images. Before the eyes of the viewer, within the context of the monitors, the egg appears to grow.
In 1965 Nam June Paik, the visionary vanguard of media arts, declared that the video camera was the paintbrush of the future. Whether this is considered prophetic or a personal mission statement, it is clear that the artist was sensitive to the potential of merging technology with art. Paik has become widely known for such provocative work as Rose Art Memory, 1988 and TV Bra, 1969, a video performance piece with famed cellist Charlotte Moorman. Paik currently lives in New York and his work is exhibited worldwide.
Double Feature exhibitions in the media arts galleries at SFMOMA create a space in which two artists’ work is juxtaposed to create new revelations and dynamics between different artistic concepts. Recognizing the vast capabilities of contemporary new media, Double Feature: Paul Kos and Nam June Paik allows the visitor to ponder initial creative implementations of modern technology, providing an opportunity to revisit the groundbreaking advent of a fresh genre of creative expression.