RM, the 27-year-old leader of Korean pop group BTS, has become an avid enthusiast, collector, and promoter of contemporary art.
In just the last few months, RM was featured on Intersections: The Art Basel Podcast, and he and the other members of BTS partnered with Google to show off their favorite artworks embedded in Google Street View at a location of their choice.
Last month, ARTnews published a feature detailing the wide impact RM has had on art institutions in the US by using Instagram to feature major museums like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. That followed news that RM and his bandmates would be focusing on solo activities for the foreseeable future.
As RM set out on this next phase of his career, the pop star spoke with ARTnews over email to discuss the growing role of art in his life, how he chooses which exhibits and institutions to check out, and the difference between visiting museums as RM, the working professional, vs. Kim Namjoon, the individual.
The text below has been edited for length and clarity.
ARTnews: Some people use their Instagram as a kind of diary. What’s your relationship to 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 profile introduction, hashtags, and the pictures they take at a certain place, every detail speaks for who they are and it’s one of the best platforms for self PR and branding. When I want to get to know someone, I often look through their feed, but I try not to judge the book by its cover.
My Instagram account is literally “just an archive” about myself. I’m sure that 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 part is that I tend to interpret nature or simple objects through the “lens of art.” ‘That’s a cypress tree in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings’ or ‘That’s Giorgio Morandi’s bottle.’ Thoughts like these come to mind.
AN: What do you make of your influence in the art world?
RM: As one of many art enthusiasts, I just want to visit great exhibitions when I get a chance and share with people so they can enjoy them as well.
AN: When you spoke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this past September, you said you wanted to return again as the human being Kim Namjoon. What’s the difference between visiting these institutions as RM versus Kim Namjoon?
RM: Responsibility comes first in public occasions. To purely enjoy the art, I would make a personal visit. I feel happiest when I’m at an art exhibition as an individual.
AN: You’ve spoken about how going to exhibits has become part of your new normal and has helped bring you a sense of balance. What was it like for you during the times in the pandemic when museums and galleries were shut down?
RM: Even during the pandemic, many museums and galleries have been operated reservation based, so I could visit them for most of the period. However, I felt helpless when some of my favorite places shut down for months as if I had been a frequent visitor for quite a while. It’s incredible how you can adapt to something so quickly.
AN: How do you pick where you go? How does choosing where to go for something like your road trip after BTS’s Permission to Dance On Stage, Los Angeles residency differ from deciding what art to see in your daily life in Korea?
RM: I tend to choose an exhibition that is featuring my favorite artist, or a place that I’ve been curious about, e.g., the Guggenheim Museum and the Glenstone Museum. In Korea, I visit museums that feature the artworks of modern and contemporary Korean artists. When I’m abroad, I choose based on the space and artists themselves.
AN: Many of the institutions you visit have work by Korean artists, either permanently or on exhibition while you visit. Is the experience of seeing Korean art while working abroad different from your frequent trips to see exhibits of Korean art in Korea?
RM: I like to think about how different spaces give the artwork a different energy and feeling. When seeing works of Korean artists in foreign countries, nationality doesn’t count so much. But I can definitely say that seeing Yun Hyong-keun’s works at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and exhibited alongside Donald Judd’s works at the Chinati Foundation left me in awe.
AN: Some of the places you’ve gone, like the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, are especially hard to visit. Do you have a bucket list, or do you respond 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 U.S. and Europe 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 road trip like the one after BTS’s 2021 LA concerts again? Do you have any specific places in mind?
RM: I would love to do it again when I get a chance. I would like to visit places I haven’t been to so far.
AN: When you talk about art, you often discuss timelessness, the longevity of careers, and work that outlives an artist. Is there something about painting and sculpture that feels more permanent or eternal to you than your own artistic field?
RM: Music also has ever-lasting power when we think about musicians such as Beethoven, Bach, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. But I personally feel eternity on a deeper level in another field, not related to my profession.
AN: Your extensive knowledge of specific artists and visual arts generally has come up repeatedly [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 advise to start by visiting nearby national/public museums or small galleries. When it comes to contemporary art, some people find it more difficult because they don’t know how to approach the works or interpret them, as the works tend to be more conceptual. (I find it difficult sometimes too.) But the viewing experience, taste, and inspirations solely depend on the viewers. Once you develop your own taste and know what type of art or artist you like, you will have better eyes in discerning them. What’s more, you may have a deeper understanding of yourself too. I think this is the most intriguing part about art.