Nam June Paik (American, born Korea, 1932–2006)
TV Buddha, 1989
Closed-circuit video installation and bronze
Fractional and promised gift of Pamela and Richard Kramlich to the New Art Trust
In the event of picture scroll, visitors may kick the television. One kick per person.
Andy Warhol is not dead. Instead, he is somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, working on a set of screen tests featuring a new superstar: Dick Cheney. We watch while the grainy gray blood moves slowly, very slowly, through Cheney’s body. It takes hours. We just sit there and wait for it to end.
My orientation at the museum didn’t take very long because they didn’t show me around the galleries, just the office annex with no art in it. I’m on the second floor, marketing and communications; above us are the money people. On top of them is another floor where a certain odor strikes you as soon as the elevator doors open. This is where they keep Don Fisher’s very personal collection, the one nobody knows quite what to do with, because it consists of goats, ducks, and chickens. Until somebody figures out what they’re really worth, they live here, nibbling distractedly on the beige carpet. It doesn’t taste like much, but at least there are windows, so the light seeps across the alley and if you thought about it you might remember the grass and water from the park around the corner. If you had time to think about it.
A few weeks after I turned in my program notes for the film festival, the program coordinator called me:
“The notes are fine, except I wanted to let you know, we need to add a sentence to the beginning of one of them.”
“What does it say?”
“‘I LOVE DOCUMENTARIES!!’”
“Um, OK, but maybe you could take my name off the note then.”
“But we’re trying to add a more personal flavor.”
Everyone’s talking about this new TV show. It’s shot through an upstairs window, maybe in London, maybe not. There’s a view of a street tree and a lamppost and a sidewalk where every once in a while someone walks by. In the pilot, we witnessed a blonde woman in a pink shirt and a white skirt, and, about fifteen minutes later, a little boy, both traveling from right to left. The dramatic peak so far came in episode thirteen, when a man riding a bicycle paused briefly next to a fire hydrant on the corner. Was that hydrant always there? Who knows what other adventures await as the mystery continues to unfold? In the meantime, the entire first season will soon be available on DVD for $17.95.
“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne,” says our host Robert Osborne, emerging from the warm mahogany recesses of his Craftsman-style living room. He approaches the camera, smiling enigmatically, then drifts into a niche behind the leather sofa. He reemerges into an Orientalist fantasy of floor cushions, hookahs, and maroon draperies. Still approaching the camera, still smiling, he glides through a lofty hall of white plaster columns, sweeping staircases, and silvery fixtures. He doesn’t pick up the white telephone; he keeps on walking through room after room. In a flophouse with stained carpet and peeling wallpaper, he pauses next to a battered La-Z-Boy. He is still smiling, still looking at us. We can’t see his feet. Will he sit down? Will he ever sit down?
I’m talking on the phone in my apartment with the view of the Bay Bridge, saying I can’t believe how Mr. Hitchcock has chosen me to star in the remake of Vertigo. I mean, not only am I not an actress, I don’t look anything like Grace Kelly! I hobble downstairs on my new heels and head down the hill toward the bay, trying not to step in the cracks in the sidewalk. The shoes are beautiful, but I’m not sure I can walk all the way to Bodega. My gray skirt binds around the knees. It’s the color of pigeons.
I was standing around in the rec room on the spacecraft vaguely watching Forbidden Planet on the monitor embedded in the carpeted wall. My colleague was writing a letter by the dim light emanating from the screen. A stranger in a space suit padded quietly into the room and shut the carpeted door. With his ray gun he vaporized my colleague’s letter. “What crap are you watching?” he asked, then aimed for my colleague. The ray bounced off the screen and suddenly both colleague and stranger were gone. There was a little flame, a puff of smoke, and the screen went dark. I tried the door but it was locked. I looked around the room for something to do, but the only thing on the entertainment shelf was an ancient videotape of 2001. There are no books in space. So I undressed, folded my clothes and put them in my suitcase, folded myself into the sheets, and prepared to sleep until the ship reached the end of the universe.
This film series is brought to you by FLOOM, which should be spelled with hearts instead of Os, judging by the T-shirt of the very large person of indeterminate sex serving as master of ceremonies: the T-shirt reads “My Name is FL[heart][heart]M and I [heart] Formalist Cinema!” FLOOM has a theory, which is that D. W. Griffith was a great formalist. Also Carl Dreyer and R. W. Fassbinder, and Howard Hawks, and Nagisa Oshima, and Kenneth Anger, and Steven Spielberg. Signs around the room declare “Rossellini: Formalist!” “Kidman: Formalist!” “Michael Bay: Formalist!” This is the history of cinema as proposed by FLOOM. I’m not sure I agree, not sure I disagree, although to the best of my knowledge, Nicole Kidman is not a director; what do I know anyway? FLOOM’s heart seems to be in the right place, but I wish instead of putting up signs, someone around here would show us some movies.
Oh, the hippies, frolicking naked and hairy across the screen. They have utopian visions that they will fulfill through irrigation, flooding their back-to-nature fields with torrents of muddy water. I can’t look, I’m revolted, but R says look, these are your people! They love plants and growing things! And even though their roots are rotten the plants are growing. I can’t face it.