"The More the Better," the largest video installation by avant-garde artist Paik Nam-june, at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Gwacheon has been switched off since February 2018 due to safety issues. After 19 months of suspension, the museum decided to turn it on again while maintaining its original state as much as possible, including hundreds of now-defunct cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors.
Composed of 1,003 monitors, the 18.5-meter-tall video tower was installed at the nation's flagship art museum back in 1988 in commemoration of the 1988 Seoul Olympics which was a breakthrough for South Korea to step up in the international community.
[Youn Bum-mo](Youn Bum-mo), director of MMCA, said the museum strived to restore the iconic tower at its Gwacheon branch.
"'The More the Better' is one of the major works of our museum since Paik installed it in 1988. It has been turned off since last year due to deterioration of components and short circuit issues," Youn said during a press conference, Wednesday. "We will put all our energy to restore and conserve The More the Better. Please understand that we are approaching this carefully and it might take time."
Park Mi-hwa, an MMCA curator in charge of the project, said the museum will embark on a three-year restoration process, which will center on keeping the video installation in its original form, including the CRT monitors which are now superseded by newer technologies.
"We could take the easy way out by changing all the monitors to LCD or LED ones. However, we concluded that we need to preserve it as is, using CRT monitors. Paik willingly adopted new technologies when he was alive, but repairing and preserving the artwork after his death is an entirely different issue," Park said.
"As we consulted over 40 experts in art and technology, their opinions also varied, especially between the elderly generation who are Paik's contemporaries and the younger generation. But we prioritize the thought of the times in Paik's work and when it was created and weighed on its original form."
According to the MMCA, about 50 percent of the monitors broke down 10 years after the initial installation and the video tower went through an overhaul in 2003, in cooperation with Paik, replacing the all 1,003 television sets. After Paik passed away in 2006, the museum repaired or replaced broken monitors with extra ones, but faced a fundamental problem as the out-of-date CRT monitors could not last forever in Paik's masterpiece. It was refurbished once again in 2015, but couldn't last three years due to risk of fire from a short circuit.
"We held an international conference on preserving Paik's video artworks in 2012 and a wide diversity of opinions was offered. The name of the game was to maintain the exterior as it is, even though we have to replace parts with newer technology," Park said. "An artwork reflects the time it was created and the CRT television sets for The More the Better represent the 20th century media. It is the museum's duty to keep the spirit of the era in the artwork."
There are arguments over whether it is right to bring in state-of-the-art technologies in restoring the 1980s artwork, which will keep it up-to-date and easier to manage. Putting energy efficient LED screens inside the cabinets is an often suggested idea for restoration of The More the Better.
"While a CRT monitor has wide viewing angles, LCDs have a limited viewing angle. The field of view is an important factor for monitors of The More the Better because it is a cylindrical tower-shaped installation, seen from below, above, left and right. It is difficult to maintain the wide viewing angles of CRT with a LCD replacement as of now," Park explained.
Still, the museum opened up possibilities for embracing new technologies, while keeping it as original as possible for now. The More the Better uses five different sizes of CRT monitors, ranging from six inches to 25 inches, and some are more difficult to obtain or repair. In such cases, the museum will look into combining newer types of screens such as LCD, LED, OLED or Micro LED.
The MMCA plans to research CRT repair and other new technologies starting next year and plans to reopen The More the Better by the second half of 2022.