Nam June Paik Documentary at Sundance Offers an Incisive Look at a Rarely Seen Side of Pioneering Video Artist’s Life, Alex Greenberger, δημοσίευση στο Artnews [22/1/2023]
Amanda Kim’s new documentary Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV starts somewhere in the middle. It’s the 1950s, and within the first 20 minutes, we see the artist tranquilly playing a piano composition by Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer who ushered in a new kind of musical modernism. It’s hardly the Paik most people know.
Paik’s wild videos, sculptures, and performances exude a madcap creativity that’s all too rare these days. And so it feels like a relief when, a few minutes later, Paik can be seen slamming his fist against another piano, creating jolting stabs of sound. That’s more like it.
His transition from concert piano to avant-garde performance art didn’t come overnight. In voiceover, the actor Steven Yeun (Minari) reads a quotation from Paik in which he said he felt that his native Korea was “underdeveloped” during his childhood in the ’30s and ’40s, with little access to the creations of cutting-edge Westerners like Schoenberg. But when he arrived in West Germany in 1957, he encountered experimental music by John Cage and David Tudor, and learned what music—and, later, art—could really look like.
Most documentarians would have started out in the “underdeveloped” Korea that Paik spoke of, then gradually brought us to Munich, but Kim instead weaves his upbringing in Korea through his travails abroad. Moon Is the Oldest TV, which just made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, may at first appear to be little more than a conventional artist doc, with the requisite interviews from artists like Marina Abramović and Park Seo-bo. Kim instead spins Paik’s life story into a farther-reaching statement about what happens with Asian artists live in diaspora.