Nam June Paik, Magnet TV, 1965. 17-inch black-and-white television set with magnet, 28 3/8 × 19 1/4 × 24 1/2 in. (72.1 × 48.9 × 62.2 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Dieter Rosenkranz 86.60a-b
NARRATOR: This television looks very old-fashioned to us now, but when this piece was made by Nam Jun Paik in 1965, this set was state of the art. A large magnet attached to the top interferes with the television’s normal electric signal—creating abstract patterns on the screen’s surface. When this work was first shown, the artist allowed Whitney visitors to move the magnet themselves. In doing so, he transformed the passive experience of viewing into audience participation.
Nam Jun Paik, one of the great pioneers of video art, began working at a pivotal moment in American life: the introduction of television into virtually every home. Paik saw TV not only as a new communications technology with tremendous potential, but as a new modernist art form.