When Nam June Paik came to the United States in 1964, the interstate highway system was only nine years old, and superhighways offered everyone the freedom to "see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet." Walking along the entire length of this installation suggests the enormous scale of the nation that confronted the young Korean artist when he arrived. Neon outlines the monitors, recalling the multicolored maps and glowing enticements of motels and restaurants that beckoned Americans to the open road. The different colors remind us that individual states still have distinct identities and cultures, even in today's information age. Paik augmented the flashing images "seen as though from a passing car" with audio clips from The Wizard of Oz, Oklahoma, and other screen gems, suggesting that our picture of America has always been influenced by film and television. Today, the Internet and twenty-four-hour broadcasting tend to homogenize the customs and accents of what was once a more diverse nation. Paik was the first to use the phrase "electronic superhighway," and this installation proposes that electronic media provide us with what we used to leave home to discover. But Electronic Superhighway is real. It is an enormous physical object that occupies a middle ground between the virtual reality of the media and the sprawling country beyond our doors.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
Nam June Paik is hailed as the father of video art and is credited with the first use of the term "electronic superhighway" in the 1970s. He recognized the potential for people from all parts of the world to collaborate via media, and he knew that media would completely transform our lives. Electronic Superhighway — constructed of 336 televisions, 50 DVD players, 3,750 feet of cable, and 575 feet of multicolored neon tubing — is a testament to the ways media defined one man's understanding of a diverse nation.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist
Nam June Paik, born Seoul, Korea 1932-died Miami Beach, FL 2006