Boston's art season opened in a scintillating flash last week as both the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University hosted dazzling exhibitions of the tantalizing, humorous, and often puzzling work of Nam June Paik.
The Korean-born (now New York resident) Paik has been called the ''father of video art,'' a well-deserved title in that he has consistently been in the vanguard of that still new media. Since the introduction in the mid-'60s of the low-cost video camera and recorder, artists have gravitated toward video as an alternative to the traditional arts of painting and sculpture, as well as the ''newer'' arts of photography and film, in that it encompasses elements of all yet retains its own unique form. Paik was the first artist to recognize video's aesthetic potential; he literally seized upon the medium, producing and performing his initial video in 1965 on the same day that he recorded it. Much of Paik's most important early work was generated in Boston, through the support of WGBH and the Rose Art Museum. He called his return to ''the city of researchers'' a ''sentimental one.''
Paik's classic 1970 ''Electronic Opera No. 2,'' a 71/2-minute tape of anti-art humor that overlays a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto with a psychedelic mix of colorful electronic imagery, is the takeoff point for his extraordinary installation at the ICA. The new work is comprised of 150 television monitors in two major sculptural configurations. The first involves 96 monitors stacked brick-like against three gallery walls. The second is a projecting triangular sculpture of 68 monitors in chevron formation. Although each contained realistic images that typify American TV culture, these flashed by too quickly to reveal discernible narrative content. The effect was rather one of pure aesthetic transformation of space, producing an environment that immersed the viewer in a pulsating but soundless sphere of constantly shifting movement, color, and light.
The ultimate meaning of this impressive ''vhuzak'' (Paik's term) was elusive. Is it a critique of American culture or an indolent hymm to enervation? Paik's not telling. His challenge to the viewer to struggle with these inherent contradictions forms the provocative core of his hypnotic but startling art. Through Nov. 4 at the ICA; the Rose Art Museum exhibit, ''The Color of Time,'' through Oct. 14.