AMERICAN, BORN KOREA, 1932–2006
Nam June Paik’s Waiting for UFO is a three-part work installed in three locations on and near Storm King’s Museum Hill. The sculpture has no single focus or narrative; it is discovered gradually throughout the viewer’s encounters with its three distinctly sited parts. While it features some of the elements typical of Paik’s interior artificial landscapes—scattered televisions, castings of TV consoles, and representations of Buddha—Waiting for UFO is one of very few pieces of outdoor sculpture the artist created. A commissioned gift to Storm King, the sculpture was sited according to the artist’s choice, but it can be moved to other locations.
Paik was a pioneer video and performance artist who became world-renowned for his experiments with technology. He began to exploit televisions in his art in the early 1960s, exhibiting his earliest “electronic paintings”—television sets with scrambled images—in 1963. His interactive video works of the period presented the spectator with unprecedented visual experiences. In subsequent decades Paik was known for his installations of television sets filled with assorted objects or stacked video monitors displaying witty or dazzling abstract imagery. In Paik’s work, television often represents a landscape of contemporary America, assuming a shrine-like role as it does in modern society.
Installed outdoors, Waiting for UFO takes on additional significance, suggesting unanswerable questions about the relationship between technology and nature. Old, empty television consoles, dropped haphazardly onto the ground, appear like technological ruins. Paik also included artificial flowers, bronze and stone Buddhas, and solemn bronze masks of himself staring blankly up toward the heavens. Does the work suggest that technology (or its detritus) has overtaken nature, or merged with it? What do Paik’s own self-portrait masks signify? This evocative work lends itself to a variety of interpretations.