Paik was among the first artists to experiment with video and television. Zen for TV, one of his earliest works, consists of a television set in which the picture on the screen has been reduced to a single line—the result of damage to the TV during transport. Paik embraced the effects of the accident and displayed the set turned on its side, altering the viewer’s relationship to an otherwise familiar household object.
Paik first exhibited Zen for TV at his groundbreaking 1963 exhibition Exposition of Music, Electronic Television in Wuppertal, Germany. In one of the show’s many rooms, he installed around a dozen televisions, each altered internally or connected to additional electrical equipment to distort the images they displayed. Some of the pieces were interactive, including TV sets attached to tape recorders and radios that, when adjusted, would interfere with the transmitted broadcast, creating new, unpredictable shapes on the screens. Paik was interested in these chance effects, which allowed him to privilege indeterminacy over artistic intention, an idea brought to the fore by the American composer John Cage and which many artists experimented with and explored in the 1960s. Paik famously predicted that the cathode ray tube would replace the canvas, establishing his view that television and video were the new artist’s materials and anticipating the incredibly rich and varied body of video art that exists today.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)