How RM of K-pop group BTS became one of the art world’s biggest and youngest influencers

More people visit museums and galleries when he has posted about them and South Korean artists are experiencing a global boost from his patronage

RM of K-pop boy band BTS is an influential art collector who champions South Korean artists and has amassed a multimillion-dollar private collection. Reuters
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As a member of one of the world’s biggest boy bands, BTS’s RM, 28, has amassed an estimated $22 million fortune, according to reports.

But RM, whose initials stand for “Rap Monster” and whose real name is Kim Namjoon, hasn’t taken the traditional wealthy young musician’s route of spending his money on fast cars and big houses.

Instead, he has become one of the art world’s biggest and youngest influencers, putting together a personal collection that includes works by South Korean artist Yun Hyong-keun, American minimalist Joel Shapiro and most recently a $1.2 million sculpture by American multidisciplinary artist Roni Horn.

Instagramming his private collection

For the past few years, RM has been sharing his acquisitions both on Instagram and in videos on YouTube where he maintains a vlog about his life and travels.

“I think young people these days use their Instagram feed to represent themselves,” he told Artnews. “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.”

Investing in his financial future has resulted in him travelling the world on art-buying trips. He shared a video in July of his trip to the Art Basel art fair in Switzerland, as well as the Vitra Design Museum, saying: “I’m here to see the chairs.”

Taking in furniture by Eames and Alexander Girard, he also admired work by Tadao Ando and Jean Prouve.

Calling Art Basel the “world’s greatest art fair”, he said: “I’ve been to art fairs in Korea a few times, but I’ve always wanted to visit Art Basel when abroad."

Championing South Korean artists

Chief among RM’s collection are pieces by South Korean artists. He has shared two pieces he owns by Yun Hyong-keun on social media and champions the work of modernist Lee Bae.

During his trip to Art Basel, he highlighted pieces by Do Ho Suh, Lee Seung Jio, Yoo Youngkuk and Nam June Paik, the latter of whom has emerged as one of the singer’s favourite artists. He also attended the Kukje Gallery in Seoul for a recent Yoo exhibition.

Once you develop your own taste and know what type of art or artist you like, you will have better eyes in discerning them

“I tend to choose an exhibition that is featuring my favourite artist, or a place that I’ve been curious about, such as the Guggenheim Museum and the Glenstone Museum,” he told Artnews. “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.

“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.”

Inspiring art appreciation in fans and Gen Z

RM sharing his appreciation for art has resulted in an uptick in visitors to the museums and galleries he promotes.

The effect even has a name: “Namjooning”, in which fans, known at the BTS Army, partake in RM’s hobbies and passions and post photos of themselves on social media using the hashtag.

Many establishments have experienced the effects of #namjooning. The Rothko Chapel and The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, and contemporary art museum The Broad in Los Angeles have all reported an increase in visitors keen to replicate photos RM posted of himself during his visits.

At Washington National Gallery of Art, after the singer shared a photo of himself sat on a bench alongside a selection of his favourite works — including by Claude Monet, Amedeo Modigliani and Paul Cezanne — the gallery experienced a huge increase in Instagram followers.

As well as collecting, RM has also stepped into the role of art supporter. In 2020 he donated 100 million South Korean won (about $73,000) to Seoul's National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) so it could reissue out-of-print art books for libraries. The act resulted in RM being named as Art Sponsor of the Year by Arts Council Korea.

“We are very happy that RM, who has a high global influence, is an art lover,” said the MMCA’s director Youn Bummo in a statement about the donation.

Gaining the respect of the art world

RM told the Intersections: The Art Basel Podcast that his art collection "really gives me a standard by which to live as a better man and a better adult".

"I just want to make timeless music that I admire," he said.

Not only has he been able to introduce his legion of fans to contemporary art, he has also earned the admiration of the art world for his knowledge and enthusiasm.

Korean art dealer Park Kyung-mee, who owns the influential PKM Gallery in Seoul, said the singer has made art more accessible to younger people and the public by sharing his experiences on social media and via his vlog. “He is throwing away the kind of barrier between the art institutions — galleries and museums — and younger people."

RM told The New York Times of his art collection: “I feel like they’re watching me. I’m motivated. I want to be a better person, a better adult, because there is this aura that is coming from these artworks on display. [When I'm feeling] tired or let down, I sometimes stand there and have a conversation."

Of his future plans for his own public art space, he told the newspaper: “I want it to be really quiet and calm, but it must still look cool. I think that there’s something that I can offer as an outsider of the art industry."

Updated: September 16, 2022, 4:03 AM