RM, the 27-year-old leader of the Korean pop group BTS, has become an avid contemporary art enthusiast, collector and promoter.
In just the past few months, RM has been featured on Intersections: The Art Basel Podcast, and he and other BTS members partnered with Google to showcase their favorite works of art embedded in Google Street View in a place of their choice.
Last month, ARTnews published a feature detailing RM’s large impact on art institutions of the USA using Instagram to showcase major museums like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC followed the news that RM and his bandmates will be focusing on solo activities for the foreseeable future.
When RM started the next stage of his career, the pop star spoke with ARTnews via email to discuss the growing role of art in his life, how he chooses which exhibitions and institutions to visit, and the difference between going to museums as RM, a professional, and Kim Namjoon, an individual.
The text below has been edited for length and clarity.
ARTnews: Some people use their Instagram as a kind of diary. What is your relationship with your Instagram? Does it have a purpose for you?
RM: I think young people these days use their Instagram feed to represent themselves. From their profile presentation, hashtags, and photos they take in a certain location, every detail speaks to who they are, and it’s one of the best platforms for self-promotion and branding. When I want to get to know someone, I often check their feed, but I try not to judge a book by its cover.
My Instagram account is literally “just an archive” of me. I’m sure people are familiar with RM as a public figure on stage… This is an archive for both RM and Kim Namjoon, and I’m also doing it for myself in the future.
AN: How have you incorporated visual arts into your daily life?
RM: I think the most interesting thing is that I tend to interpret nature or simple objects through the “lens of art”. “This is the cypress in Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings” or “This is Giorgio Morandi’s bottle.” Such thoughts come to mind.
AN: How do you feel about your influence in the art world?
RM: As one of the many art enthusiasts out there, I just want to visit great exhibitions when I get the chance and share them with people so they can enjoy them too.
AN: When you spoke at the Metropolitan Museum in New York last September, you said you wanted to come back as human Kim Namjoon again. What is the difference between visiting these institutions as RM and Kim Namjoon?
RM: Responsibility comes first in public events. To simply enjoy the art, I would visit it in person. I feel happiest when I am at an art exhibition as an individual.
AN: You talked about how going to exhibitions became part of your new normal and helped you feel balanced. What was it like for you during the pandemic when museums and galleries were closed?
RM: Even during the pandemic, many museums and galleries were open by reservation, so I was able to visit them for most of the period. However, I felt helpless when some of my favorite places closed for months at a time, as if I had been a frequent visitor for quite some time. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to something.
AN: How do you choose where to go? How to choose where to go for something like you trip after BTS Permission to Dance On Stage, is the Los Angeles residency different from what kind of art do you see in your daily life in Korea?
RM: I usually choose an exhibit that features my favorite artist or a place I’ve been interested in, such as the Guggenheim Museum and the Glenstone Museum. In Korea, I visit museums that display works of art by modern and contemporary Korean artists. When I am abroad, I choose based on the space and the artists themselves.
AN: Many of the institutions you visit have works by Korean artists either permanently or on display during your visit. Is the experience of experiencing Korean art while working abroad different from your frequent trips to Korean art exhibitions in Korea?
RM: I like to think about how different spaces give artworks different energy and feel. When you see the work of Korean artists abroad, nationality doesn’t matter as much. But I can definitely say that when I saw Yoon Hyung Keun’s work at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and displayed alongside Donald Judd’s at the Chinati Foundation, I was blown away.
AN: Some of the places you’ve visited, such as the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, are particularly difficult to visit. Do you have a bucket list or do you react to where work takes you?
RM: There are so many private museums and collections in the US and Europe run by the world’s best collectors or local communities that I would love to visit. I guess it depends on how far I can go at the time. But for special places like Chinati, I would always try my best to make it work.
AN: Would you do another art trip like the one after the 2021 BTS concerts in Los Angeles? Do you have any specific locations in mind?
RM: I would like to do it again when I have the chance. I would like to visit places where I have not been before.
AN: When you talk about art, you often discuss timelessness, the longevity of a career, and the work that lives an artist. Is there anything about painting and sculpture that seems more permanent or eternal to you than your own field of art?
RM: Music also has an eternal power when we think of musicians like Beethoven, Bach, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. But I personally experience eternity on a deeper level in another area, not related to my profession.
AN: Your extensive knowledge of specific artists and the visual arts in general has been mentioned many times [when talking to people about your influence on art]. What advice do you have for your fans or others who want to learn more about art but don’t know where to start?
RM: I would suggest starting with visiting national/public museums or small galleries nearby. When it comes to contemporary art, some people find it more difficult because they don’t know how to approach or interpret the works, as the works tend to be more conceptual. (It’s hard for me too sometimes.) But the viewing experience, taste and inspiration depend solely on the viewer. Once you develop your own taste and know what type of art or artist you like, you will be better able to recognize them. What’s more, you can also gain a deeper understanding of yourself. I think this is the most intriguing part of art.