From the garden of TV screens on the floor clear up to the top of the laser-lit waterfall, the museum's rotunda has been transformed by Nam June Paik, a legendary multimedia visionary.
Born in Korea, Paik was the first global electronic artist. As early as 1973, he was leading an international group of artists in a worldwide live performance. He pioneered using satellites to make art for the global village.
And, above all, through the past 40 years, Paik has been urging us to become interactive.
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Paik has always been a master manipulator of images and context, profoundly changing the way images look today in areas such as advertising, movies, and music videos.
"What he's done is speed up television and distort it," says Steven Vitiello, an artist and archivist of Paik's work. "Sometimes, it's the content, but it's more the sense of watching all the television sets. Instead of getting a headache, you actually find something whole."
No exhibit about Paik would be complete without his most famous collaborator, the late Charlotte Moorman. Like Paik, she was a classically trained musician. He made a TV cello, TV glasses, even a TV bra for her. Their performances were notorious events in the avant garde world.
Over the years, Paik has pushed all his collaborators to the edge, including Norman Ballard, a laser artist who works with Paik making light sculptures.
"It's very difficult to describe Nam June, a relationship with him," says Ballard. "It's voracious, yet the craft of the artist he's worked with is always challenged."
Slowed but not stopped by a stroke four years ago ("Brain working. Mouth functioning, too!"), Paik is still pushing the limits. With Ballard's help, he built the exhibit's extraordinary centerpiece: a seven-story waterfall illuminated by a single laser beam that bounces its way off a series of mirrors in a zigzag climb to the top.
Standing near the foot of Paik's cascading laser waterfall, you can see why the Guggenheim chose his work to launch the new millennium. It's a statement that, just as art is being changeby technology, technology is being changed by art.
"He wants you to see this as something humanizing, that technology's not a cold remove from your life, but can be the material of a new life," concludes Hanhardt.