Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Catharsis, 2019-20 (Installation view, 14 January 2020 Serpentine Galleries) (© 2019 Photo: Hugo Glenndinning)

LONDON — K-pop and contemporary art may seem like strange bedfellows, but as of late they have been getting more and more friendly. In 2016 the rapper T.O.P. from K-pop band BIGBANG guest-curated a Sotheby’s auction of Western and Asian contemporary art, which pulled in $17.4 million. And now the K-pop megaband BTS has launched a global public art project involving 22 contemporary artists across five international cities. 

In 2019 BTS, which been dubbed the “biggest boy band in the world,” became the first band to ever spend five weeks at number one on the Billboard Artist 100 chart. The seven-member South Korean group has attracted a global fan base, nicknamed ARMY. Known for working cultural references into their tracks, the band members have now turned their hand to arts patronage. With their public art project, “Connect, BTS,” the pop stars are attempting to engage their fans with the work of international contemporary artists working in a range of mediums.  

Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Catharsis (2019-20) (© 2020 courtesy of the artist)

The “Connect, BTS” website describes the endeavor “in terms of a collective curatorial practice by curators around the world who resonated with BTS’ philosophy.” The five-part project was launched last week at London’s Serpentine Galleries. The London chapter, an immersive installation by Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen, will be on display at the Serpentine until March 15 and can also be viewed online. Entitled Catharsis, the video takes visitors on a journey through an imaginary forest constructed by artist though 3-D scanning and audio sampling. 

The day after the London launch, Gropius Bau in Berlin began Rituals of Care, a series of performances by 17 international artists including Jelili Atiku and boychild. The performances are centered around themes with particular contemporary urgency, including land and the Anthropocene, violence, and repair. 

Over the coming weeks, “Connect, BTS” will also inaugurate projects in Buenos Aires, Seoul, and New York. For the New York commission, British sculptor Antony Gormley will construct an installation composed of 60 feet of aluminum tubing on a converted pier in Brooklyn Bridge Park. At the launch of the project at the Serpentine, Gormley described the initiative as a “very open-minded and generous gesture,” which would be able to engage a “whole new young audience.” 

Jakob Kudsk Steensen, Catharsis (2019-20) (© 2020 courtesy of the artist)

In a video call from Seoul during the launch, BTS member RM (Kim Namjoon) said: “We’re very excited and really happy to be part of this project. We’ve been hearing so much about how this world doesn’t need art, but we think this is a big challenge for all of us from different genres, we believe in the part of art that can help change the world.”

At the launch, members of the BTS ARMY swarmed the Serpentine, showing the band’s impressive pulling power. If the “Connect, BTS” project continues to enjoy such popularity, this may just be the beginning of a long love affair between K-pop and contemporary art. 

Naomi Polonsky is a London-based curator, art critic, and translator. She studied at the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute of Art and has experience working at the Hermitage Museum and Tate...