Contemporary Art

T.O.P of His Game


HONG KONG – The musician, rapper, actor and art collector known as T.O.P has been a member of Asia’s reigning K-pop band, BIGBANG, since 2006. Wildly popular in Asia and on the verge of becoming a global sensation, K-pop combines hip-hop, pop and electronic music into a hybrid genre that pushes boundaries in a post-postmodern whirl of musical styles, international fashion trends and synchronised dancing. It is perhaps not coincidental that K-pop’s cultural and geographical mash-up is congruent with T.O.P’s taste in art. Over the past few years, the 28-year-old multi-hyphenate has been steadily acquiring works by such blue-chip names as Gerhard Richter and Rudolf Stingel while also collecting Asian artists, including Takashi Murakami, Kohei Nawa and Park Jina, many of whom are his friends. 


“Western collectors tend to focus on Western contemporary art, but in Asia there is an openness to combining both,” says T.O.P. He has become a model for a new generation of Asian collectors who, just starting out, are expanding the definition of what a contemporary art collection can be. 

That progressive attitude guided his curatorial approach to #TTTOP, a special auction of Western and Asian contemporary art that will be held at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 3 October. 

KIM WHANKI, FLIGHT, CIRCA 1960. ESTIMATE HK$3,500,000–5,500,000. ($451,255–709,115).

The sale is the result of a yearlong collaboration between the auction house and T.O.P, and a portion of its proceeds will be donated to the Asian Cultural Council, which provides opportunities to emerging Asian artists. His choices, he explains, reflect his “eclectic personal taste and wider vision for contemporary art as a whole”: Kohei Nawa, Teppei Kaneuji, Tomoo Gokita and Park Jina; American postwar icons Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring; and works by Korean masters such as Park Seobo, Lee Ufan, Chung Sanghwa, Paik Nam June and Kim Whanki. 

As it happens, Kim Whanki (1913–1974) was one of many painters in T.O.P’s extended family. Although the young star grew up surrounded by artists, he rejected the notion of becoming one himself. But he confesses to having always had  an acquisitive side. “I have always been a collector,” he explains. “I started when I was a child, collecting toy blocks.”  

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, INFANTRY, 1983. ESTIMATE HK$30,000,000–40,000,000 ($3,867,900–5,157,200).

As a teen, it was limited-edition sneakers. “It wasn’t exactly the shoes that excited me,” T.O.P says. “I simply got a kick out of the sight of similar objects lined up neatly, one next to another.” His fascination with the phenomenon of variation within a single category continued in his early twenties, when he started buying the work of important modern designers like Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Prouvé. 

Some of those design pieces make a memorable appearance in scenes from the artful black-and-white video for T.O.P’s hit single “Doom Dada,” released in autumn 2013. Directed by Seo Hyun Seung in collaboration with T.O.P, “Doom Dada” is notable for its sophisticated visual imagery. Full of stylistic and thematic nods to the films of Ji-woon Kim and Stanley Kubrick, the video layered with high-art allusions, including the title’s obvious homage to the early-20th-century avant-garde movement, a name-drop of Basquiat, and sets that feature the design objects from the singer’s collection against the backdrop of an enlarged reproduction of a painting of a deer – one of Kim Whanki’s best-known works. In T.O.P’s world, art is never far from the music. 

KOHEI NAWA, PIXCELL-T.O.P (DOOM DADA), 2016. ESTIMATE HK$50,000–80,000 ($6,446–10,314). 

In fact, among several new collaborative pieces created especially for the Sotheby’s auction is a work by his friend Nawa is directly connected to “Doom Dada.” One of the Japanese artist’s signature PixCell figures, PixCell-T.O.P (DOOM DADA), represents the singer with another character from the video, both depicted toylike, holding hands and covered with tiny transparent bubbles. 

Co-producing works for the sale with Nawa, as well as with Murakami and others, was particularly enjoyable for T.O.P, who is respected for his dedication to supporting emerging talent in Asia. As he sees it, the #TTTOP auction represents the ideal opportunity to promote Asia’s cultural assets to a global art world – and to his more than 5 million Instagram followers. “With so much interest in Korean music and culture right now, it’s a good time to bring attention to young artists,” he says. “I’m like an ambassador.” 

Meghan Dailey is executive editor of Sotheby’s magazine and has written about art for The New Yorker, Interview, W and other publications.

#TTTOP Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Exhibition: 30 September–3 October. Auction: 3 October. Enquiries +852 2822 8146 

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