Patronage of Video Art: The Relationship of the Rockefeller Foundation and Nam June Paik

Jan 18, 2024 | by
  • Description

On October 4, 1965, Korean-born artist Nam June Paik bought his first Sony Portapak with a JDR 3rd Fund grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Introduced earlier that same year by the Sony Corporation in Japan, this device was the first portable video recorder with a dedicated camera. Paik's Portapak was among the first in the United States, which enabled him to play a central role in establishing video as a credible medium for artistic expression. By analyzing grants Paik received from the Rockefeller Foundation, this essay examines a three-decade-long relationship between the artist and the Rockefeller Foundation that enabled Paik to create groundbreaking works of art. This project will analyze how the social and financial capital of the Rockefeller Foundation equipped Paik with the knowledge and equipment to pursue his transnational projects linking South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United States, among other countries, through his video, television, and satellite projects. The relationship Paik cultivated with Howard Klein, director of arts at the Rockefeller Foundation, reveals a complex dynamic of power, institutional interests, and global reach of works that Paik could not realize without the support of the Rockefeller Foundation. In this way, this essay will examine a series of correspondences, interviews, and proposals that reveal the commitment the Rockefeller Foundation officers, specifically Howard Klein, had in making Paik the pioneer of video art.