Into the Misty

Nam June Paik Lights Up Rockefeller Center

On Wednesday, June 26, Transmission opened in that Rockefeller Center spot reserved for the Christmas tree. Around the old-fashioned radio tower, Mozart played from the silver cars. "Characteristics of the 20th century are organized violence, media, car-cult," Paik stated in the catalog for 32 Cars. And common to all three was consumerism. 32 Cars is a little museum of the once hot, now obsolete: the Model A Ford, the DeSoto, the Dodge with "Fluid Drive."

Paik rolled in to much acclaim. "Is it a special piano?" he was asked.

"Bought it at Macy's."

Paik's new work, Transmission, is a gorgeous evocation of loss.
photo: Joshua Farley
Paik's new work, Transmission, is a gorgeous evocation of loss.

The new piece is a gorgeous evocation of loss, though it shows that much can still be done with a relic.

The art aficionados who gathered for the opening may not have expected to hear Paik play "The Star-Spangled Banner," especially if they once knew the Fluxus world—bohemians in the rough Soho lofts of the '60s making music from, say, water dripping into a bucket. Great music wasn't exactly the point. But he gave his 20 minutes onstage a sort of sound-collage twist by not playing complete songs. "Mine eyes have seen the glory/Fish are jumping and the cotton is high." It was like moving across the radio dial. While his playing changed the pattern of neon on the radio tower, the laser work was only visible to those with a view of the outdoor restaurant set up on the skating rink. Waves and arcs jumped over the canopy.

But there was no mist curtain. The restaurant had objected.

"It's been smoothed out now," Ballard reported the next day. "We're just going to have a little haze."

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