NEW YORK, NY.-
Ken Hakuta is the Executor of Nam June Paik's Estate. Since Nam June's death in 2006, the Estate has worked to preserve the integrity of Nam June's artistic legacy by being consulted by auction houses on the provenance of Paik artwork, authorizing exhibition copies for museum exhibitions, working with museums and collectors on numerous Paik issues, and working on conservation issues. Jon Huffman, who worked closely with the artist as his studio assistant and on many of his exhibitions, is Curator of the Paik Estate. He oversees, for the Estate, the installation of his artwork and the making of Estate authorized exhibition copies where appropriate. Huffman has worked on the recent Museum Kunst Palast Dusseldorf and Tate Liverpool shows, the current Nam June Paik exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the upcoming (in late 2012) Smithsonian American Art Museum Paik exhibition, among many others.
So when Mr. Hakuta heard that the University of Cincinnati was holding a Nam June Paik Video Art Conservation Symposium (April 15-16), he was extenuated when the Estate was not consulted or invited to participate.
While Mr. Hakuta is always extremely pleased and grateful when someone takes the time to exhibit or conduct legitimate further research into Nam June's works and videos, including conservation (with or without his participation). Given the very public information about the role of the Paik Estate, it seemed rather strange to Mr. Hakuta that the Paik Estate was not even been contacted or informed about this Paik Conservation Symposium in Cincinnati.
However, to anyone familiar with the inner affairs of Nam June Paik, this would not come as a surprise at all. Mr. Hakutas only surprise is that some of the participants, having worked with the Estate, or being from institutions closely associated with the artist, still chose to participate in this Symposium over their better judgment, or hopefully through a lack of information.
The reason why the Paik Estate has not been invited, Mr. Hakuta believes, tie into Carl Solway Gallery and its owner, Carl Solway, in Cincinnati. Carl Solway is obviously a prominent art person in Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati, the organizers of this Symposium.
Going back to the early 1990's, when Carl Solway fabricated and circulated the Paik Information Superhighway exhibition, Nam June wanted to look into Solway's activities because he was concerned that unauthorized objects were being exhibited and sold. At that time, Nam June Paik did not have the resources to look into those allegations.
In an affidavit from 2003 from Nam June Paik, Paik stated: "I suspected that he (Solway) was designing and building pieces without my input, such as W3, and passing them off as my work."
In 2003, one of the New York auction houses contacted the Estate to look at a Paik object that was coming up for sale. Ironically and befittingly, it was a piece that had come up for sale from the bankrupt Enron Corporation, which had purchased the work from Solway. The Estate was unable to make a judgment on the object. Paik wrote in the auction catalogue that the work was not his, and there were no records of any financial transactions. The New York auction house withdrew the object from the sale. As a result of this, and several other outstanding matters, Carl Solway sued Nam June Paik to force him to authenticate a group of works he claimed were Paik's works. Paik denied that the works are his, in the aforementioned legal affidavit. The entire lawsuit, which is public domain, can be seen on the website of www.PaikStudios.com
. What really bothered Mr. Hakuta and others who loved and cared about Nam June, in all of this, aside from the questioned authenticity of artwork and possible financial and artistic fraud, was the ethics and greed of a man who would sue an artist who was sick and dying, knowing fully well that Paik was unable to defend himself in his poor health. Needless to say, Paik's lawyers recommended a settlement that prioritized Paik's health needs, rather than a long legal process that involved legal depositions from a sick man.
Mr. Hakuta has been told that Solway continues to actively market Paik's works in New York, Korea and China.
It is appalling to Mr. Hakuta that given this history of legal problems and lawsuit with Paik, Solway is presenting, along with Mark Patsfall (appropriately described in the Symposium program as a "fabricator of Nam June Paik sculpture"), a longtime employee, a presentation on "producing Nam June Paik works," which is as ironic as Enron. As Mr. Hakuta understands, there is a video exhibition in the university art gallery, no doubt filled with Solway made video objects. I am afraid that the University of Cincinnati is unaware of this history. However, it challenges Mr. Hakutas imagination to think how, and why, any legitimate organization would conduct a symposium on a major artist, and not seek input from an active Estate. The Estate is very easy to find.
Mr. Hakuta finds some room for skepticism and questions the motives, and regrets that a symposium with a more ethical and higher motive could not have been organized, especially as many prominent and well meaning people in the field are listed in the program.