The Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian Museum of American Art was the highlight of my visit to Washington DC. Other than the popular and expensive art museums in NYC (such as the MoMA, the Met and the Guggenheim), the entry to this museum is free and the galleries are noticeably less crowded.

I was thrilled to see Nam June Paik’s video installation “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii” (1995). A canonical work in the development of video art, this installation still has the power to fascinate viewers, despite our apparent condition of being accustomed to electronic imagery. The work’s impact lies both in its monumentality and its detail. A part of the installation that truly affected me is a collection of monitors showing a clip from the Wizard of Oz – the part where Dorethy sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. My experience of the work resonated with my overall feeling of optimism and fascination I felt with my visit to the States.

Paik, born in Korea, came to the United States in 1964 when the interstate highway system only nine years old. “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.” (The Smithsonian Museum of American Art: Electronic Superhighway).

Nam June Paik, "Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii" (1995)

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2 comments

  1. This is a fantastic museum, one that I have enjoyed many times. The U.S. map artwork is a great one among the permanent collection there, and they have really good exhibits come through. I think the current traveling exhibit there is about the art of video games. Cool stuff!

    • Indeed! I just posted about ‘the art of video games’. Very cool show. I’ve never seem kids having so much fun in an art museum.

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