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Nam June Paik, TV cello 1976 and TV Buddha 1976. John Kaldor Family Collection at the Art Gallery of NSW © Nam June Paik Estate

Nam June Paik

Korea and USA, 1932–2006
Paik was one of the first artists to work with television and video, transforming both forms of popular media into art. He stressed that electronic media is not sculpture or painting, but a ‘time art’. A prescient theorist whose writings were as visionary as his art, he’s credited with inventing the term ‘electronic superhighway’ and stating that ‘the future is now’.

TV Buddha 1976

First designed in 1974, Paik’s TV Buddha brings together the past and present, the old and new, the real and illusory. This version, created for his 1976 Kaldor Public Art Project, uses an old Korean Maitreya (Buddha of the future) that belonged to John Kaldor and a futuristic-looking television Paik bought in Sydney’s Kings Cross. The Buddha perpetually gazes at the TV screen, on which he sees an image of himself recorded by the closed-circuit camera.

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TV cello 1976

This cello-like instrument has been made by attaching a bridge, tailpiece and strings to three TV monitors housed in clear boxes so their inner workings show. As part of a Kaldor Public Art Project, Paik’s long-time collaborator, cellist Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991), played this instrument at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1976, while the screens showed closed-circuit footage of the gallery and the performance as it happened. Paik’s first TV cello was created in 1971. Moorman often said it was the first real innovation in cello design since 1600.

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Moorman performs with Paik’s TV cello

Archival footage of a performance at the Art Gallery of NSW for the 1976 Kaldor Public Art Project, in which Moorman plays Paik’s TV cello.