RM, the 27-year-old leader of Korean pop group BTS, has become an avid enthusiast, collector and promoter of contemporary art.
RM was only introduced in the last few months Crossroads: The Art Basel Podcast, and he and the other members of BTS have teamed up with Google show their favorite works of art embedded in Google Street View at a location of your choice.
Last month, ARTnews has published a feature describing the far-reaching effects of RM art institutions in the United States by using Instagram to feature major museums like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC That messages followed that RM and his bandmates would be concentrating on solo activities for the foreseeable future.
As RM headed into this next phase of his career, the pop star spoke to him ARTnews via email to discuss the growing role of art in his life, how he chooses which exhibitions and institutions to see, and the difference between visiting museums as RM, the professional, and Kim Namjoon, the individual.
The following text has been edited for length and clarity.
ARTnews: Some people use their Instagram as a kind of diary. What relationship do you have with your Instagram? Does it have a specific purpose for you?
RM: I think young people these days use their Instagram feed to represent themselves. From their profile introduction to hashtags to the pictures they take in a certain place, every detail speaks to who they are and it’s one of the best platforms for self-PR and branding. When I’m trying to get to know someone, I often check their feed, but I try not to judge the book by its cover.
My Instagram account is literally “just an archive” about me. I’m sure people know RM as a public figure on stage… This is an archive for both RM and Kim Namjoon and I’m doing it for myself in the future as well.
AN: How have you integrated visual arts into your daily life?
RM: I think the most interesting part is that I tend to interpret nature or simple objects through the “lens of art”. “That’s a cypress in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings” or “That’s the bottle by Giorgio Morandi”. Such thoughts come to mind.
AN: How do you feel about your influence in the art world?
RM: As one of many art enthusiasts, I just want to go to great exhibitions when I get a chance and share them with people so they can enjoy them too.
AN: If you spoke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last September you said you wanted to return as Kim Namjoon as a person. What is the difference between visiting these institutions as RM and Kim Namjoon?
RM: Responsibility comes first at public events. To enjoy the art purely, I would make a personal visit. I feel happiest when I’m at an art exhibition as an individual.
AN: You talked about going to exhibitions becoming part of your new normal and helping you find a sense of balance. How did you experience the times when museums and galleries were closed during the pandemic?
RM: Even during the pandemic, many museums and galleries operated on a reservation basis, allowing me to visit most of the time. However, I felt helpless when some of my favorite places were closed for months, as if I had been a frequent visitor for quite some time. It’s amazing how you can get used to something so quickly.
AN: How do you choose where to go? How do you choose where to go for something like your own? Excursion after allowing BTS to dance on stage, is staying in Los Angeles different from deciding what art to see in your daily life in Korea?
RM: I tend to choose an exhibition that features my favorite artist or a place I was curious about, eg the Guggenheim Museum and the Glenstone Museum. In Korea, I visit museums that display works by modern and contemporary Korean artists. When I’m abroad, I choose based on the space and artists myself.
AN: Many of the institutions you visit have works by Korean artists on display either permanently or during your visit. Is the experience of seeing Korean art while working abroad different from your frequent trips to see Korean art exhibitions in Korea?
RM: I like to think about how different spaces bring a different energy and feel to the artwork. When viewing Korean artists’ work abroad, nationality doesn’t count that much. But I can definitely say that I was impressed by the sight of Yun Hyong-keun’s work at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and the exhibition alongside Donald Judd’s work at the Chinati Foundation.
AN: Some of the places you’ve visited, like the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, are particularly difficult to visit. Do you have a bucket list or react to where your work takes you?
RM: There are so many private museums and collections run by the world’s top collectors or local communities in the US and Europe that I would love to visit. I think it depends on how far I can go at the moment. But for special places like Chinati I would always do my best to make it work.
AN: Would you do an art road trip like the one after the LA concerts of BTS 2021 again? Do you have specific places in mind?
RM: I’d love to do it again if the opportunity arises. I want to visit places I haven’t been before.
AN: When you talk about art, you often talk about timelessness, the longevity of careers and works that outlive an artist. Is there anything about painting and sculpting that feels more permanent or eternal to you than your own artistic field?
RM: Music also has an eternal power when we think of musicians like Beethoven, Bach, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. But I personally feel eternity on a deeper level in another area that has nothing to do with my job.
AN: Your vast knowledge of specific artists and visual arts in general has always surfaced [when talking to people about your influence on art]. What advice do you have for your fans or others who are interested in learning more about art but don’t know where to start?
RM: I would recommend starting by visiting nearby national/public museums or small galleries. With contemporary art, some people have a harder time because they don’t know how to approach the works or how to interpret them since the works are more conceptual. (I find it difficult sometimes too.) But the viewing experience, the taste and the inspiration depend solely on the viewers. Once you develop your own taste and know what kind of art or artist you like, you’ll have better eyes to spot them. In addition, you may also have a deeper understanding of yourself. I think that’s the most fascinating part of art.