SEOUL, South Korea – RM, leader of South Korean pop group BTS, made his first appearance at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to perform for Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.” It was early 2020, before the coronavirus lockdown, and at midnight, accompanied by a large dance crew, the seven members of BTS put on a raucous performance of their single “On” in an otherwise empty hall.
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At the end of last year, RM Returned as a citizen. “It was really strange to be at Grand Central for the second time with so many people,” he told me on a recent afternoon, sitting in the Seoul headquarters of the entertainment firm Hybe behind the boy band. This time, he said, “I went with my friends, and I am a visitor who bought tickets.” They jumped on a Metro-North train headed for the Hudson Valley’s minimalist art Xanadu Dia Beacon. “It’s a utopia,” he said. There is a room dedicated to his favorite artist, On Kawara, who spent his career creating dark-colored paintings with the date of creation in white text.
Diya was the latest stop on a long art journey that 27-year-old RM has been on for the past few years, building an art collection and thinking about opening an art space. BTS’ ardent fans (who call themselves the Legion) have used his social media posts and press reports to get behind him, increasing attendance at the venues he hits. Veteran dealer Park Kyung-mi credits the singer and rapper with making art more accessible to the general public. “He’s kind of removing the barrier between art institutions—galleries Museums — and young people,” she said at her gallery, PKM, in Seoul.
RM has also embraced the role of art supporter, loaning Korean artist Kwon Jin-kyu’s terra cotta sculpture of a horse to the Seoul Museum of Art retrospective that runs through May, and donating 100 million won (about $84,000) in 2020. time) for national Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) so that it can reissue out-of-print art books and distribute them to libraries. Arts Council Korea, a government-affiliated body, later named him Arts Sponsor of the Year. “We are very happy that RM, who has a high global influence, is an art lover,” Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA, said in an email.
That global influence has an almost immeasurable reach. BTS’s YouTube channel has more than 70 million subscribers (another K-pop act, Blackpink, is the only artist with more), and RM’s Instagram alone has 37 million followers. (MMCA has 200,000.) A 35-minute vlog he recorded about his visit to the Art Basel fair in Switzerland last summer has garnered nearly 6 million views. To an impenetrable, impenetrable world, he can be an ambassador of dreams.
That makes his persistence remarkable visual arts It came about through “serendipity, a very accidental encounter,” said RM, whose name is Kim Namjoon. (He formally adopted the stage name in 2017 to replace the moniker Rap Monster.) He grew up near Seoul, and his parents “took me to museums, but I don’t think I enjoyed it that much,” he said. Sitting in his hotel room during a tour in 2018, deciding what to do with some downtime, RM chose to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. The paintings of Seurat and Monet fascinated him. “It was almost like Stendhal syndrome,” he said, adding that the art produces physical symptoms in the viewer, such as lightheadedness or a rapid heartbeat. It was shocking to see the works he personally knew from breeding. “It was like: Wow. I was looking at these art pieces, and it was an amazing experience.
Anytime the subject turned to art, the already energetic composer became especially excited; He was with an interpreter, but he usually switched to English (he is very fluent, and said he learned by watching “friends”). “I quit my studies when I was 17 because of this BTS, because I was a trainee,” he said, listing all the exercises involved. “But after 10 years, I met Art, and I started reading books again – seriously.” He is charismatic and a quick study, and you can imagine him as an effective politician or a beloved, slightly eccentric professor.
From a young age, RM was collecting: stamps, coins, Pokemon cards, rare stones (“not expensive”) and then toy figures. A large KAWS “companion” stands in Hybe’s recording studio full of his art, but his art is very old. George Nakashima’s table holds his computer workstation, with Yoon Hyeong-kyun holding a spare abstract painting — three glowing masses of paint — hovering behind it. More than 20 works hang on one wall, many by key 20th-century Korean artists such as Park Soo Keun, Chang Uchin and Nam Joon Paik.
Overseas travel underscored “my roots are in Korea” for RM, he said, and he has focused his collection on artists from home, particularly generations that survived the Korean War, military dictatorship and the Great Economic Crisis. These artists are little known outside their country. (Other sculptors preferred well-recognized blue-chip artists, dealers told me.) “I was able to feel their kind of sweat and blood,” RM says of them as “people who were trying to present their artwork.” the world.”
The BTS leader comes across as an old soul. When asked to define his taste, he mentioned that he is attracted to art about “eternity”, and that it comes because of this fast and busy aura. The K-pop industry.” He is interested in the past, but is looking to learn about new art. (His solo music, by contrast, has a singular, experimental, texture of the moment.) He posted from a summer show at N/A Space, organized by emerging gallerist Duyong Ro, who That said, some speculated that the star had bought the photo taken in his post. That’s not the case. Still, RM’s post brought in visitors, even without identifying the location by name, and the ever-industrious army found Ro’s own niche, Cylinder’s Instagram, he said.” How did they know about this?”
Surrounded by the works of the dead greats, “I feel like they’re watching me,” RM said. “I’m motivated. I want to be a better person, a better adult, because that’s the aura that comes from these artworks on display.” When he “feels tired or depressed, I sometimes stand there and chat with them”, he said. Standing in front of Yun’s spare painting, he could ask, “Mr. Yun, it will be fine, right?”
RM is thinking about his future. Compulsory military service is on the horizon. (The band members are currently spending time on solo projects, though their label insists that BTS is not on hiatus.) A few months ago, RM told Art Basel’s global director Marc Spiegler on the fair’s podcast. He was thinking of opening some kind of art field. “I want it to be really cool and calm, but it still has to look good like Axel,” he told me, name-checking Belgian designer, antiquarian and gallerist Axel Vervoord (one of RM’s musical inspirations, also a favorite of Kanye West. ). .
That place is still some way off, but RM envisions a ground floor cafe and Exhibition The areas above showcase Korean and international artists in a way that appeals to the youth. “I think there’s something I can offer as an outsider to the art industry,” he said.
He may only be able to claim an outsider position for so long. He recently added Ronnie Horn’s cast-glass cylinders — in a spectral, semi-transparent white — to his collection, and he’s becoming known as an art connoisseur. Park, an established Seoul dealer, said he has found texts about Yoon that are not in his gallery’s archives. (She represents Yun Estate, and became an army a few years before meeting RM. “I started studying them through YouTube,” she said. “There’s a lot of material. It takes a really long, long time to master it.”)
Yun’s life was miserable, as RM reminded me. He was jailed four times for political reasons and managed to escape the death penalty only once. In his 40s, he began making meditative paintings, spreading large sheets of thin, inky umber and blue paint on linen or canvas. “It’s a perfect combination of Western and Eastern, or Asian or Korean styles,” RM said.
Does he have a favorite era of the artist’s work? “I started loving his works, his paintings, from the 70s, but now I love him, his world, his artwork, everything. I’m not objective anymore,” RM said. “That’s what we call a fan.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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