A pioneer in video art since the 1960s, Paik believes he may be particularly suited to this medium by his training in music. "I think I understand time better than the video artists who came from painting-sculpture," says Paik, because "music is the manipulation of time. . . . As painters understand abstract space, I understand abstract time"—and time is integral to video art, which must unfold in a temporal duration. Paik's art often uses or refers to music and musical instruments. Meanwhile he has also built structures out of or incorporating television sets, so that his video images become elements in an overall sculptural configuration.
Paik is a veteran of the Dada-inspired Fluxus group, and his work can be cheerfully anarchic. This untitled piece, though, is elegiac in tone. An upright player piano is piled with fifteen televisions. Wired to these sets are small closed-circuit cameras trained on the instrument's mechanism, so that as the piano, unmanned, plays ragtime, its workings appear on the screens. We also see, on one monitor at the sculpture's top and on another at its foot, the image of the late John Cage. A composer and aesthetic thinker who embraced chance, accident, and a certain playfulness of approach, Cage was influential for many postwar artists, including Paik.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 313