Korean composer, sculptor, and performance artist, regarded as the founder of video art. He lived in the USA from 1964. Originally part of the Fluxus movement (an experimental arts group), Paik became a major influence on numerous forms of late 20th-century avant-garde music and art. Performance of his music involved such activities as a topless cellist using Paik's spine as a fingerboard; in Variations on a Theme of Saint-Saëns, the pianist plays ‘The Swan’ while the cellist immerses herself in an oil drum. As a video artist he was distinguished for his inventive use of technology, incorporating the equipment as sculptural objects; in My Faust (1989–91), for example, Paik represented intent through video images screened from 13 television monitors set up as the Stations of the Cross, the installation enforcing, deepening, and expanding the meaning of the images depicted.
Using irony and wit, Paik's work pushed the boundaries of video as a fine art medium, as well as promoting technological advancement; his TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969), in which the cellist Charlotte Moorman wore a bra made from two tiny television sets, was a prime example. Other avante-garde compositions included Hommage à John Cage (1959), in which two pianos were totally destroyed, Performable Music (1965), with directions for the performer's forearm to be cut with a razor, and the music Symphony for Twenty Rooms (1961), Opera Sextronique (1967), and Young Penis Symphony (1970). The Earthquake Symphony of 1971 concludes with an appropriate finale.
Paik was born in Seoul, and studied music, art history, and philosophy at the University of Tokyo. He moved to Germany to study music history at the University of Munich. He was also taught and influenced by the US composer and avant-garde artist John Cage during this period. Fluxus, a multi-disciplinary artistic movement with an aesthetic of spontaneous, expressive minimilism, was emerging in Europe at that time, having started in New York in the 1960s. Paik joined the movement, performing in several experimental concerts where objects and sound were employed as artistic media. In 1964 Paik moved to New York City, and began to exploit video as an artistic medium. He moved to Los Angeles in 1970, and taught media studies at the California Institute of Arts.